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Did Asteroids Bring Life to Earth – It’s No Longer The Stork?

“In terms of the search for extraterrestrial life, we note that those planetary systems which have a giant planet just outside their asteroid belt may be more likely to develop complex life on their Earth-like planets,” said astronomer Mario Livio. “Among the planetary systems discovered so far, about 4 percent satisfy this condition. I would recommend targeting those first.”

nasa picture showing how life may come from asteroids

This is an artist’s concept of excess left-hand aspartic acid created in asteroids and delivered to Earth via meteorite impacts. The line at the bottom is a chromatogram showing that left-hand aspartic acid (tall peak in the center, with diagram of left-hand aspartic acid molecule on top) was four times more abundant in the meteorite sample than right-hand aspartic acid (smaller peak to the left, with right-handed aspartic acid molecule on top). Credit: NASA/Hrybyk-Keith, Mary P.

no more stork

Did Asteroids Bring Life to Earth? According to New Findings the Answer is Yes…

 Theoretically That is

Whenever we hear the words ‘asteroid’ and ‘Earth’ used together it usually brings to mind some doomsday images of hundreds of large asteroids rocketing through Earth’s atmosphere andexploding into the cities below and ending life as we know it. However, something new has been discovered by scientists that can actually lead us to the opposite view; which is? That asteroids can actually begin life, especially on rocky planets like our Earth. Did asteroids bring life to Earth? It has certainly been speculated and theorized about for many years, so what’s new that makes scientists and astronomers feel they are even more sure that this was indeed the delivery mechanism for life?

This information that has recently come out, is from a study done by astronomer Mario Livio of the Space Telescope Science Institute and Rebecca Martin, NASA Sagan Fellow from the University of Colorado. They believe, as many have for years, that asteroids may be likely to be the key to how birth and evolution of life on planets like Earth, rocky planets. How so though?

Remember when you used to skip rocks when you were a kid? Think of the rock as the asteroid and the body of water as our Solar System. As you skip the rock, perhaps it hits a few larger rocks or land masses along it’s way gathering microscopic life forms as it continues along and finally sinks into the water on its last skip. Of course I’m sure you see where I am going with this analogy, just swap out the asteroid for the rock and land masses or larger rocks for other planets.

They can’t just land on any planet though and create life though. Their study shows “that only a tiny fraction of planetary systems

asteroids on earth solar system map

This illustration shows three possible scenarios for the evolution of asteroid belts. In the top panel, a Jupiter-size planet migrates through the asteroid belt, scattering material and inhibiting the formation of life on planets. The second scenario shows our solar-system model: a Jupiter-size planet that moves slightly inward but is just outside the asteroid belt. In the third illustration, a large planet does not migrate at all, creating a massive asteroid belt. Material from the hefty asteroid belt would bombard planets, possibly preventing life from evolving. (Credit: NASA, ESA and A. Feild of STSci: http://www.stsci.edu/portal/)observed to date seem to have giant planets in the right location to produce an asteroid belt of the appropriate size, offering the potential for life on a nearby rocky planet,” said Martin, the study’s lead author. “Our solar system may be rather special.”

Where are These Theories Coming From

Where are they getting their findings from? The astronomers’ findings are based on an analysis of theoretical models and archival observations of extrasolar Jupiter-sized planets and debris disks around young stars. Their paper was published recently by the Oxford University Press in its “Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters.”

“Our study shows that only a tiny fraction of planetary systems observed to date seem to have giant planets in the right location to produce an asteroid belt of the appropriate size, offering the potential for life on a nearby rocky planet,” said Martin, the study’s lead author. “Our solar system may be rather special.”

In regards to how an asteroid may have affected the Earth’s life forms, their paper notes that asteroids may have delivered water and organic compounds to the early Earth. It also states that occasional asteroid impacts may even accelerate the rate of biological evolution. It can speculates that it could do this by disrupting a planet’s environment to the point when species must try new strategies for adapting.

What Chance is There of E.T. Living on a Planet Near You?

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Could this mean that there are actual chances that there is extraterrestrial life within our solar system? According to the study and Livio, this is indeed a possibility, however, similar to to Earth having the right conditions; which included an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, a region of million of space rocks, and the belt being near a *“snow line”, there would have to be an asteroid belt in similar circumstances, and near an Earth-like planet.

Regarding the term ‘snow line’, Livio and TechNewsWorld explained that a snow line is what marks the border of a cold region where material such as ice is far enough from the Sun to remain intact. When our solar system was forming, the region just beyond the snow line contained a dense mix of ice, rock and metals that provided enough material to build giant planets like Jupiter.

When Jupiter formed just beyond the snow line, its strong gravity prevented nearby material inside its orbit from coalescing and building planets. Instead, that material collided and broke apart, ultimately settling into an asteroid belt around the Sun.

jupiter asteroid belt key to life on earth

“We make the important prediction that if a planetary system has an asteroid belt at all, this belt should roughly coincide with the snow line, beyond which water [condenses] to form ice”.

So how likely is this though? In his interview with Tech News World, Livio stated that “among the planetary systems discovered so far, about 4 percent satisfy this condition. I would recommend targeting those first.”

Where’s the Proof?

You may wonder what evidence there is to support this ideas that asteroids could be the beginning of life, here or elsewhere. There is actually quite a bit of isotopic evidence that supports this theory, although the device acting as the delivery mechanism may be something other than an asteroid.

In reference to the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K/T) extinction event that occurred about 65 million years ago,  UCLA Professor William Newman (departments of earth and space sciences, physics and astronomy, and mathematics) told TechNewsWorld that Newman added. “For our planet, we need also consider the role of outer solar system objects, notably comets.” He continued on to say, “due to a comet, not an asteroid, and our oceans’ isotopic abundances are consistent with the volatiles present in comets”. asteroid in tech news

Newman concluded the discussion saying, “So, I expect that the mechanism that they present is very important, but one should not exclude the significance of materials originating beyond that Jovian planet in this coevolution of extrasolar planetary system dynamics and life emerging on planets within their respective habitable zones”.

Whether it be by comet or asteroid, it may just be that the delivery method for life may now be known. This doesn’t make the information completely useful to us though, since trying to find an Earth-like planet will require distances that we cannot yet find.

Paul Czysz, a professor emeritus of aerospace engineering with St. Louis University, told TechNewsWorld:

“We’re looking too close for an Earth-like planet,” Czysz explained.

“The galaxy is 100,000 light years across, but the most we’re looking is five to 10 light years,” he noted. “If you were sitting in New York City on Times Square, that would be like looking not quite to lower Manhattan. There’s all that other land out there that you can’t see.”

To find something equivalent to our solar system, “you’re going to have to look a lot farther away,” he said.

“The distances are so huge, it’s really almost fanciful to think that we can find another inhabited planet within our ability to see it,” Czysz concluded. “The distances and our ability to travel fast just don’t match up.”

On another note, and back to our opening of doomsday thoughts of asteroids plummeting into Earth, scientists are actually developing a way to deflect large asteroids from our planet. And yes, for those of you that love the ideas put forth in the popular movie Armageddon, starring Bruce Willis as an engineer that drills into a speeding asteroid to deliver a nuke, these new developments do include a real live, non-Hollywood nuke. Look for that in tomorrow’s news at TheHighTechSociety.com.

About Kimberly Carver

Kimberly Carver is a writer that loves all aspects of technology including tech in science, medicine, computers, electronics and more. She is also a Mac Specialist, journalist and paralegal, as well as the owner / creator of The High Tech Society.

Comments

  1. Denise says:

    Interesting article, great writing. I believe in ‘star people’