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Friend or Foe? Meteorite Impacts and the Origins of Life

Monday, April 28, 2014

Meteorite impact events are a ubiquitous geological process in the Solar System and have had a profound effect on the evolution, and perhaps the origin, of life on Earth. While the catastrophic consequences of impact events are well established, the impact process also has  beneficial effects, especially for microbial life, where novel impact-generated products such as impact glass and shocked crystalline rock can become a refuge for endolithic organisms. Furthermore, any impact into a water-bearing target, such as on Earth or Mars, will generate post-impact hydrothermal activity, which over time, will cool to temperatures capable of supporting thermophilic life, persisting anywhere from thousands to millions of years. Early in the history of our solar system, the impact cratering rate was significantly higher than it is today, a period termed the Late Heavy Bombardment (LHB), the end of which coincides with the first signs of life on Earth. Knowing the benefits of impact-generated products and processes, the question we address is this: Was the LHB a frustration to life, or the catalyst for it's origins?

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