New Study Says Meteorite Craters May Be Where Life Began On Earth

New Study Says Meteorite Craters May Be Where Life Began On Earth

Throughout Earth’s history, asteroid impacts have caused some of the largest destructive events, often being responsible for mass extinctions. However, these meteors crashing into the planet might not be as damaging as once though. New research now suggests that these impacts may have also provided just the right conditions for life to get started on Earth. Who would have thought it; something that causes so much death and destruction could also be responsible for brand new life.

Destroyer of Worlds

Today, if a large asteroid were to strike Earth, it would probably be the end for human civilisation and most other species’ too. An example of this would be the dinosaurs. Around 66 million years ago, all the dinosaurs went extinct for this very reason - an object struck the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. That said, what if asteroid impacts were also responsible for life developing on Earth?

The extinction like event that wiped out hundreds of thousands of dinosaurs is the one that everyone associates with asteroid impacts. Everyone relates large chunks of rock hitting the Earth to destructive and damaging events. However, Dr. Gordon Osinski, a planetary scientist at Western University and lead author of the new study, is trying to turn that idea on its head and prove the the impacts actually create an oasis for new life.

Impact Crater Meteorite Earth
This illustration of an immense impact crater shows the hostile, inhospitable conditions that would exist directly after the impact. Credit: Osinski et al., 2020

Creator of Life

According to the new study, as an asteroid crashes into Earth, it leaves a large crater in the ground. Over time, a crater lake will subsequently form in the impact basin where the asteroid was. The combination of water, heat, minerals, and chemicals in this lake creates ideal conditions where microbes would have a safe environment and an abundant source of energy to multiply. While the initial environment directly after the impact is inhabitable, it soon becomes a safe haven for new life.

Angle Earth Impact Crater
This illustration shows the same impact crater, but after time has passed, and a lake has formed inside the crater walls. Credit: Osinski et al., 2020

So, what makes these lakes so perfect for microbes to grow? Well, these meteor habitats include 'transient hydrothermal systems', similar to hydrothermal vents found on the ocean floor along the mid-Atlantic ridge, and hot springs and geysers like those in Yosemite National Park. This environment is conducive to life and is only there because of the impact - it would have never occurred there otherwise.

Yellowstone Steamboat Geyser Old Faithful
Steamboat geyser eruption in May 2005. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

It's likely that this is how new life was started all over the world after the asteroid killed all the dinosaurs. We all descended from one common ancestor - single cell organisms. Bacteria and microbes would have been the only things alive at one point, most likely thanks to a crater lake. From there, all other life was able to evolve and expand to the world we live in today.

Sources: WesternU | Astrobiology | NASA NASA Earth Observatory

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