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Life may have arrived from space

Posted November 14, 2013
Life may have arrived from space
False-coloured scanning electron microscope image showing organic material in meteorite debris.
New research shows that organic molecules, on which life is based, can survive the impact from a meteorite.


Reporting in the journal Nature Geoscience, mineralogist Dr Kieran Howard and his team have discovered intact organic molecules inside debris from a meteorite impact. Dr Howard was a researcher at the Museum when he performed the analyses.

This is the first evidence that any organic material, either inside a meteorite or already on Earth, can survive the impact of a meteorite striking the planet at high speed.

The discovery lends weight to the idea of panspermia – the suggestion that life on our planet was seeded by material falling from space.

The debris studied by the team was thrown up by a meteorite impact in Western Tasmania, Australia, leaving a 1.2km diameter crater known as Darwin Crater.

The meteorite crash-landed on Earth approximately 800,000 years ago at a speed of up to 18kms per second, and with a possible temperature on impact of more than 1,700°C.

It was thought that any organic material would be vaporised by the extreme temperature and pressure of a collision. But the researchers found organic matter within the impact debris from local swamps and rainforests present when the meteorite struck.

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