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Asteroid craters on Earth give clues in search for life on Mars

Date:
April 17, 2012
Source:
University of Edinburgh
Summary:
Craters made by asteroid impacts may be the best place to look for signs of life on other planets, a study suggests.

A crater from a long-ago comet or asteroid impact in the Chesapeake Bay is buried beneath hundreds of feet of sediment.
Credit: Nicolle Rager-Fuller, NSF

Craters made by asteroid impacts may be the best place to look for signs of life on other planets, a study suggests. Tiny organisms have been discovered thriving deep underneath a site in the US where an asteroid crashed some 35 million years ago.

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Scientists believe that the organisms are evidence that such craters provide refuge for microbes, sheltering them from the effects of the changing seasons and events such as global warming or ice ages.

Life forms

The study suggests that crater sites on Mars may also be hiding life, and that drilling beneath them could lead to evidence of similar life forms.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh drilled almost 2 km below one of the largest asteroid impact craters on Earth, in Chesapeake Bay, US.

Samples from below ground showed that microbes are unevenly spread throughout the rock, suggesting that the environment is continuing to settle 35 million years after impact.

Microbe nutrients

Scientists say that heat from the impact of an asteroid collision would kill everything at the surface.

However, fractures to rocks deep below would enable water and nutrients to flow in and support life.

Some organisms grow by absorbing elements such as iron from rock.

The research was published in the journal Astrobiology.

"The deeply fractured areas around impact craters can provide a safe haven in which microbes can flourish for long periods of time. Our findings suggest that the subsurface of craters on Mars might be a promising place to search for evidence of life," said Professor Charles Cockell, of the School of Physics and Astronomy. Cockell is first author of the study.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Edinburgh. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Charles S. Cockell, Mary A. Voytek, Aaron L. Gronstal, Kai Finster, Julie D. Kirshtein, Kieren Howard, Joachim Reitner, Gregory S. Gohn, Ward E. Sanford, J. Wright Horton, Jens Kallmeyer, Laura Kelly, David S. Powars. Impact Disruption and Recovery of the Deep Subsurface Biosphere. Astrobiology, 2012; 12 (3): 231 DOI: 10.1089/ast.2011.0722

Cite This Page:

University of Edinburgh. "Asteroid craters on Earth give clues in search for life on Mars." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 April 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120417080541.htm>.
University of Edinburgh. (2012, April 17). Asteroid craters on Earth give clues in search for life on Mars. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120417080541.htm
University of Edinburgh. "Asteroid craters on Earth give clues in search for life on Mars." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120417080541.htm (accessed October 31, 2014).

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