Sci Station Canada

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Asteroid crash Genesis

According to a report in The Independant "a massive impact with a giant asteroid - the Haughton impact crater on Devon Island, Nunavut Territory, Canada - could have kick-started life on Earth more than four billion years ago by providing an ideal environment for incubating the world's first lifeform.

Charles Cockell, of the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, said analysis of rocks has shown how asteroids can help life to flourish. The intense heat of an asteroid impact causes rock minerals to vapourise, leaving tiny cracks and crevices inside the rock where microbes can live. "We've discovered that rocks inside the crater are more heavily colonised by microbes than the rocks outside the crater," Dr Cockell told the British Association Festival of Science being held in Exeter.

The Haughton crater was created 25 million years ago when an asteroid about a kilometre wide hit Earth, releasing energy equivalent to about 1,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs. When they hit the ground most of the energy is released as heat and one of the effects of that is to provide the energy for simple organic compounds to form more complex compounds," Dr Cockell said.

The heat from a similar impact about four billion years ago could have lasted for between 1,000 and a million years. This may have kept any water collecting within the crater at a constant warm temperature, providing an ideal environment for the origins of life.


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