Monday, August 08, 2005

Meteors and early life

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Meteor strikes may have led to the extinction of some life on Earth, but they may have also contributed to the creation of life, according to a study released on Monday.

Geologists researching the crater left when the Haughton meteor slammed into what is now Canada's Arctic 23 million years ago found the impact created hydrothermal springs in the cracked rock and other conditions that would have made it easier for microbes to survive and evolve.

The impact of a meteor hitting the Earth may have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, according to some theories that posit it sparked huge fires and a gigantic dust cloud.

"Most people put impacts with mass extinction... What we're trying to say is that following the impact, the impact sites are actually more favorable than the surrounding terrain," said Gordon Osinski, of the Canadian Space Agency.

Researchers found that in addition to hydrothermal springs, meteor impacts would have allowed microbes easier access to minerals in a protected environment.

Osinski noted that the heaviest meteor bombardment of Earth happened about 3.8 billion years ago, around the same time that life on the planet is believed to have started.

The researchers reported their study on Monday in Calgary, Alberta, during a joint meeting of the Geological Society of America and the Geological Association of Canada.

The Haughton crater on Devon Island in Canada's Nunavut Territory is often used by researchers looking at methods to aid the search for life on Mars.

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