Giant Meteor Impacts Might Have Triggered Early Earth’s Plate Tectonics

Mining asteroids might be necessary for humanity to expand into the Solar System. But what effect would asteroid mining have on the world's economy? Credit: ESA.

Plate tectonics have played a vital role in the geological evolution of our planet. In addition, many scientists believe that Earth’s geologically activity may have played an important role in the evolution of life – and could even be essential for a planet’s habitability. For this reason, scientists have long sought to determine how and when Earth’s surface changed from molten, viscous rock to a solid crust that is constantly resurfacing.

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There Could be Planets Out There Which are Even More Habitable than Earth

Artist’s impression of a Super-Earth planet orbiting a Sun-like star. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

When searching for potentially habitable exoplanets, scientists are forced to take the low-hanging fruit approach. Since Earth is the only planet we know of that is capable of supporting life, this search basically comes down to looking for planets that are “Earth-like”. But what if Earth is not the meter stick for habitability that we all tend to think it is?

That was the subject of a keynote lecture that was recently made at the Goldschmidt Geochemistry Congress, which took place from Aug. 18th to 23rd, in Barcelona, Spain. Here, a team of NASA-supported researchers explained how an examination of what goes into defining habitable zones (HZs) shows that some exoplanets may have better conditions for life to thrive than Earth itself has.

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Fossilized Clams Had Evidence of a Meteorite Impact Inside Them

Some of the microtektites found by Mike Meyer inside fossilized clams in Florida. Image Credit: Photo by Meyer et al in Meteoritics and Planetary Science.

When an extraterrestrial object slams into the Earth, it sends molten rock high into the atmosphere. That debris cools and re-crystallizes and falls back down to Earth. Tiny glass beads that form in this process are called microtektites, and researchers in Florida have found microtektites inside fossilized clams.

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1.2 billion years ago, a 1-km asteroid smashed into Scotland

Artist's concept of the meteorite entering Earth's atmosphere. Credit: University of Oxford

In 2008, scientists from Oxford and Aberdeen University made a startling discovery in the northwest of Scotland. Near the village of Ullapool, which sits on the coast opposite the Outer Hebrides, they found a debris deposit created by an ancient meteor impact dated to 1.2 billion years ago. The thickness and extent of the debris suggested that the meteor measured 1 km (0.62 mi) in diameter and took place near to the coast.

Until recently, the precise location of the impact remained a mystery to scientists. But in a paper that recently appeared in the Journal of the Geological Society , a team of British researchers concluded that the crater is located about 15 to 20 km (~9 to 12.5 mi) west of the Scottish coastline in the Minch Basin, where it is buried beneath both water and younger layers of rock.

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Rovers on Mars should be searching for rocks that look like pasta – they’re almost certainly created by life

Spring System at Yellowstone. Photo by Bruce Fouke.

According to a new NASA-funded study that appeared in Astrobiology, the next missions to Mars should be on the lookout for rocks that look like “fettuccine”. The reason for this, according to the research team, is that the formation of these types of rocks is controlled by a form of ancient and hardy bacteria here on Earth that are able to thrive in conditions similar to what Mars experiences today.

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This Strange Feature on Mars was Probably the Result of an Ancient Volcanic Explosion

An olivine-rich deposit near Nili Fossae on the Martian surface. Image Credit: NASA/MRO

A strange feature on the surface of Mars has kept scientists guessing about its origin. It’s a surface deposit of a mineral which is more common in the interiors of planets. A new study shows that this interior mineral was probably brought to the surface by an ancient explosive volcano.

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Massive Volcanic Eruptions 66 Million Years Ago Happened Almost Exactly When the Dinosaurs Died Off

The Deccan traps are an area of igneous rock in India that formed during a time of intense volcanic activity about 65 million years ago. Image Credit: Gerta Keller, Department of Geosciences, Princeton University
The Deccan traps are an area of igneous rock in India that formed during a time of intense volcanic activity about 65 million years ago. Image Credit: Gerta Keller, Department of Geosciences, Princeton University

Everyone knows an asteroid strike wiped out the dinosaurs, right? Lots of evidence shows that the Chicxulub impact event had terrible consequences for the dinosaurs. But the picture is a little more complicated than that. Extreme volcanic activity may have contributed to the extinction.

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Another Enormous Crater Found Under the Ice in Greenland

The possible impact crater. Image Credit: NASA Scientific Visualization Studio
The possible impact crater. Image Credit: NASA Scientific Visualization Studio

A glaciologist has discovered another enormous impact crater under more than a mile of ice in Greenland. This is on the heels of the November 2019 discovery of an impact crater in the same area under the Hiawatha Glacier. The November discovery was the first-ever crater found under ice on Earth.

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Without the Impact that Formed the Moon, We Might Not Have Life on Earth

The chemicals that made life possible on Earth may have come from another planet that collided with Earth, forming the Moon. Image Credit: Rice University
The chemicals that made life possible on Earth may have come from another planet that collided with Earth, forming the Moon. Image Credit: Rice University

The Earth wasn’t formed containing the necessary chemicals for life to begin. One well-supported theory, called the “late veneer theory”, suggests that the volatile chemicals needed for life arrived long after the Earth formed, brought here by meteorites. But a new study challenges the late veneer theory.

Evidence shows that the Moon was created when a Mars-sized planet named Theia collided with the Earth. The impact created a debris ring out of which the Moon formed. Now, this new study says that same impact may have delivered the necessary chemicals for life to the young Earth.


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Planetary Scientists Continue to Puzzle Over the Mysterious Slope Streaks on Mars. Liquid? Sand? What’s Causing Them?

A splitting slope streak on Mars captured by High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE). Image Id: ESP_053518_1955. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Since they were first observed in the 1970s by the Viking missions, the slope streaks that periodically appear along slopes on Mars have continued to intrigue scientists. After years of study, scientists still aren’t sure exactly what causes them. While some believe that “wet” mechanisms are the culprit, others think they are the result of “dry” mechanisms.

Luckily, improvements in high-resolution sensors and imaging capabilities – as well as improved understanding of Mars’ seasonal cycles – is bringing us closer to an answer. Using a terrestrial analog from Bolivia, a research team from Sweden recently conducted a study that explored the mechanisms for streak formation and suggest that wet mechanisms appear to account for more, which could have serious implications for future missions to Mars.

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