Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Meteor impacts: Life’s jump starter?

09.08.2005


Meteor impacts are generally regarded as monstrous killers and one of the causes of mass extinctions throughout the history of life. But there is a chance the heavy bombardment of Earth by meteors during the planet’s youth actually spurred early life on our planet, say Canadian geologists.



A study of the Haughton Impact Crater on Devon Island, in the Canadian Arctic, has revealed some very life-friendly features at ground zero. These include hydrothermal systems, blasted rocks that are easier for microbes to inhabit, plus the cozy, protected basin created by the crater itself. If true, impact craters could represent some of the best sites to look for signs of past or present life on Mars and other planets.

A presentation on the biological effects of impacts is scheduled for Monday, 8 August, at Earth System Processes 2, a meeting co-convened by the Geological Society of America and Geological Association of Canada this week in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.


The idea that meteor impacts could benefit or even create conditions suitable for the beginning of early life struck Canadian Space Agency geologist Gordon Osinski while he and colleagues were conducting a geological survey of the 24-kilometer (15-mile) diameter Haughton Crater. Along the rim of the crater they noticed what looked like fossilized hydrothermal pipes, a few meters in diameter.

"That set the bells ringing about possible biological implications," said Osinski. Hydrothermal systems are thought by many people to be the favourable places for life to evolve."

Detailed mineralogical analyses have since revealed that when the Haughton meteor smacked into the icy ground 23 million years ago it created not only a crater, but fractured the ground in such a way as to create a system of steamy hydrothermal springs reaching temperatures of 250 degrees C. The heat appears to have gradually dropped over a period of tens of thousands of years, the researchers report.

Besides providing heat and cracking the ground, the impact also created pore spaces in otherwise dense granitic rocks, giving microbes more access to the minerals and the surfaces inside the rocks - basically more real estate and more supplies.

The shocked rocks are also more translucent, which would be beneficial to organisms that possessing with any photosynthetic capabilities.

A crater shape itself also might serve as a protective environment, says Osinski. As such, impact craters are also good places to store evidence of past life. On Earth many craters fill with water and become lakes. Lakes accumulate sediments, the layers of which are a geological archive of the time after the crater formed. The Haughton Impact crater, for instance, contains the only Miocene-age sediments in the entire Canadian Arctic.

"One of the most interesting aspects of the Haughton Impact Crater is that it’s in a polar desert," said Osinski. The dry, frigid weather makes for a barren landscape that’s easy to study, he said. The same features make it one of the more Mars-like places on Earth.

"Most people put impacts with mass extinctions," said Osinski. "What we’re trying to say is that following the impact, the impact sites are actually more favorable to life than the surrounding terrain."

It’s interesting to note, says Osinski, that on Earth the heaviest meteor bombardment of the planet happened at about the same time as life is believed to have started: around 3.8 billion years ago. Impact craters of that age were long ago erased on Earth by erosion, volcanic resurfacing and plate tectonics.

But other planets and moons - including Mars - still bear the cosmic scars of that early debris-clogged period in the solar system. It may be possible, therefore, that the best places to look for at least fossil evidence of life on Mars is inside those very same craters, he said.

"What we’re doing is trying to narrow down the search area," said Osinski.

Ann Cairns | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.geosociety.org

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht How much biomass grows in the savannah?
16.02.2017 | Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena

nachricht Canadian glaciers now major contributor to sea level change, UCI study shows
15.02.2017 | University of California - Irvine

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Start codons in DNA may be more numerous than previously thought

21.02.2017 | Life Sciences

An alternative to opioids? Compound from marine snail is potent pain reliever

21.02.2017 | Life Sciences

Warming ponds could accelerate climate change

21.02.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>