Thursday, November 14, 2013

Alien Life May Thrive in Impact Craters

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By Amanda Doyle
Astrobiology Magazine

      An asteroid or comet smashing into the surface of a planet can spell doom for living creatures, but if the impact isn't large enough to completely decimate a planet's inhabitants, then the crater can ultimately provide a habitat for life. That's the finding of a new study reported at the European Planetary Science Congress in September by Iain Gilmour of the Open University in the United Kingdom.

If an ice- or water-rich area is the victim of an impact, the combination of heat and groundwater will create what is known as a hydrothermal system. In addition, many complex organic compounds, which could be precursor molecules for life, are created at high temperatures such as those generated by a collision. This combination could create the ingredients needed for life as we know it, making impact-induced habitats a potential candidate for the birthplace of life on Earth.

For a habitat within a crater to remain "home sweet home," there must be a constant supply of water and nutrients. The lifetime of the hydrothermal system is also crucial, as the heat from the impact will eventually fade away into its surroundings. . . .

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