Magazine article Science News

Craters May Have Nurtured Early Life: Cosmic Crashes Could Have Created Hydrothermal Havens

Magazine article Science News

Craters May Have Nurtured Early Life: Cosmic Crashes Could Have Created Hydrothermal Havens

Article excerpt

Meteorites smacking into the early Earth could have created warm, watery environments favorable to primordial life. A new study of an impact crater in Finland suggests that such hydrothermal activity could have lasted up to 1.6 million years--as much as 100 times longer than theory suggested--providing plenty of time for life to emerge and spread.

Ancient impact craters on Mars were probably also home to hydrothermal activity, making them good places to search for signs of life, the team reports February 19 in Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta.

Because modern hydrothermal systems house life's most ancient lineages, many biologists think that the first organisms arose in similar environments. Volcanic activity drives most hydrothermal systems today, such as the hot springs and geysers of Yellowstone. But when life evolved about 3.8 billion years ago, frequent pummeling of the planet was the largest source of hydrothermal activity.

Energy from such events melted rock and heated water circulating through the Earth's crust. These hydrothermal environments would have been cozy, protective habitats where life could have emerged, or at least gotten a foothold and further evolved.

"One of the big unknowns has been how long do these hydrothermal systems last," says Gordon Osinski, a planetary geologist at the University of Western Ontario in Canada. The roughly 250-kilometer-wide Sudbury crater in Canada hosted hydrothermal activity for a million years or longer after it formed about 1. …

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