August 8, 2005

Meteor strikes may have aided early life-study

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.