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Astrobiology. 2005 Aug;5(4):483-96.

Impact seeding and reseeding in the inner solar system.

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Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.


Assuming that asteroidal and cometary impacts onto Earth can liberate material containing viable microorganisms, we studied the subsequent distribution of the escaping impact ejecta throughout the inner Solar System on time scales of 30,000 years. Our calculations of the delivery rates of this terrestrial material to Mars and Venus, as well as back to Earth, indicate that transport to great heliocentric distances may occur in just a few years and that the departure speed is significant. This material would have been efficiently and quickly dispersed throughout the Solar System. Our study considers the fate of all the ejected mass (not just the slowly moving material), and tabulates impact rates onto Venus and Mars in addition to Earth itself. Expressed as a fraction of the ejected particles, roughly 0.1% and 0.001% of the ejecta particles would have reached Venus and Mars, respectively, in 30,000 years, making the biological seeding of those planets viable if the target planet supported a receptive environment at the time. In terms of possibly safeguarding terrestrial life by allowing its survival in space while our planet cools after a major killing thermal pulse, we show via our 30,000- year integrations that efficient return to Earth continues for this duration. Our calculations indicate that roughly 1% of the launched mass returns to Earth after a major impact regardless of the impactor speed; although a larger mass is ejected following impacts at higher speeds, a smaller fraction of these ejecta is returned. Early bacterial life on Earth could have been safeguarded from any purported impact-induced extinction by temporary refuge in space.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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