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Earth Space Science

Scientists Study Trajectories of Life-Bearing Earth Meteorites 199

Posted by samzenpus
from the we-come-from-earth dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "About 65 million years ago, Earth was struck by an asteroid some 10 km in diameter with a mass of well over a trillion tonnes that created megatsunamis, global wildfires ignited by giant clouds of superheated ash, and the mass extinction of land-based life on Earth. Now astrobiologists have begun to study a less well known consequence: the ejection of billions of tons of life-bearing rocks and water into space that has made its way not just to other planets but other solar systems as well. Calculations by Tetsuya Hara and his colleagues at Kyoto Sangyo University in Japan show that a surprisingly large amount of life-bearing material ended up not on the Moon and Mars, as might be expected, but the Jovian moon Europa and the Saturnian moon Enceladus also received tons of life-bearing rock from earth. Even more amazingly, calculations suggest that most Earth ejecta ended up in interstellar space and some has probably already arrived at Earth-like exoplanets orbiting other stars. Hara estimates that about a thousand Earth-rocks from this event would have made the trip to Gliese 581, a red dwarf some 20 light years away that is thought to have a super-Earth orbiting at the edge of the habitable zone, taking about a million years to reach its destination. Of course, nobody knows if microbes can survive that kind of journey or even the shorter trips to Europa and Enceladus. But Hara says that if microbes can survive that kind of journey, they ought to flourish on a super-Earth in the habitable zone (PDF). 'If we consider the possibility that the fragmented ejecta (smaller than 1cm) are accreted to comets and other icy bodies, then buried fertile material could make the interstellar journey throughout the Galaxy,' writes Hara. 'Under these circumstances fragments could continue the interstellar journey and Earth origin meteorites could be transferred to Gl 581 system. If we take it as viable, we should consider the panspermia theories more seriously.'"
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Scientists Study Trajectories of Life-Bearing Earth Meteorites

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  • Panspermia (Score:5, Insightful)

    by The Evil Atheist (2484676) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @08:20AM (#39656131) Homepage

    If we take it is viable, we should consider the panspermia theories more seriously.

    Only as a possible answer to the origin of Earth's life. It still doesn't answer the origin of life itself, wherever it may have started.

  • Re:Panspermia (Score:5, Insightful)

    by olsmeister (1488789) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @08:39AM (#39656239)
    No, but it could answer the question of how life managed to arise here on earth in a relatively short period of time, and would also exponentially expand the potential area we consider when we think about places that could have been suitable, both chemically and environmentally.
  • Re:Place Bets Here (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jochem_m (1718280) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @08:40AM (#39656249)
    and the fact that it's more like hitting any of a dozen cockroaches with a million needles...
  • Re:Panspermia (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ArcherB (796902) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @09:07AM (#39656501) Journal

    God? (Ducks!)

    I still follow the premise that Life originated on earth. As a random chemical reaction, that created simple DNA strains that that happened in an area where the environment stayed constant enough for those chemical reactions to persist but changing enough to allow the strain to change over time. The Chemical Reaction that didn't break down allowed for more chemicals to connect to the DNA strand and multiply.

    While thinking about it, the environment would not necessarily need to change to force the DNA to change (evolve). All the "environment" needs is to be stable enough to foster replication. The edges of such an area would provide the change in conditions needed for evolution to take hold. The bonds that were able to multiply at the edges and beyond did so. Those that were not able to didn't.

    An example would be ocean vents. This environment is rather stable and fosters life within it. Along the edges, where the conditions are not as favorable to the original life forms, most those that are venturing out will die. Those that don't die continue to reproduce, each surviving generation better able to survive further away from the vents until the need for the vents completely disappears.

    Just my $0.02 and I'm not a biologist. But I have stayed in a Holiday Inn and the concepts are not that hard to grasp.

  • Re:Panspermia (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mcgrew (92797) * on Thursday April 12, 2012 @09:20AM (#39656609) Homepage Journal

    From what I've read (which was a LONG time ago so further discoveries and theories may have developed), Earth had little or no oxygen when life developed, and the oxygen would have been a poisonous byproduct, like methane is to today's life.

    So life itself would have changed the environment, of course along with other such variables as volcanos, continental drifting, and meteors.

  • by exploder (196936) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @09:34AM (#39656745) Homepage

    Astounding! With just a few minutes of thought and your superior intuition, you've dismissed the result of careful calculation and decades of training on the part of this group of scientists. Imagine what a genius of your magnitude could accomplish from within the scientific system...it truly staggers my humble intellect! But I'm sure you're working on much more important things.

  • Re:Panspermia (Score:4, Insightful)

    by paleo2002 (1079697) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @10:23AM (#39657407)
    When comparing panspermia to a terrestrial origin for life people seem not to fully comprehend one important factor: time.

    It began raining on the Earth about 4-4.4 billion years ago, meaning surface temperatures and atmospheric conditions were stable enough for the oceans to accumulate. Some of the earliest evidence of biochemical alteration of the atmosphere (banded iron formations) first appear about 3.7 billion years ago. That's over 500 million years for naturally occurring amino acids to jump to self-replication and then to simple prokaryotes. Now, think about the rate at which microorganisms reproduce. 500Ma is about as much time as its taken for life to jump from single-celled forms to modern vertebrates, etc.

    Panspermia includes too many unknown and slim chances. And, as mentioned elsewhere in these posts, where are these life-seeding bolides coming from?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 12, 2012 @11:15AM (#39658165)
    Just once I'd like to see an origin-of-life article on Slashdot without atheists dragging religion into the discussion.

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