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Meteorites could have thickened primordial soup

High temperatures and pressures of impacts can create complex organic chemicals, tests show

In recent geological ages, large extraterrestrial bodies colliding with Earth have been associated with worldwide extinctions, but new experiments show that massive impacts that occurred early in our planet’s history could have created the raw materials for life.

The hellish temperatures and pressures generated when an extraterrestrial object strikes Earth at speeds of several kilometers per second are enough to shatter and vaporize rock (SN: 6/15/02, p. 378). Yet part of such an immense burst of energy can trigger chemical reactions that generate complex organic substances from basic inorganic ingredients, says Takeshi Kakegawa, a geochemist at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan. He and his colleagues conducted lab experiments intended to simulate a common meteorite striking one of Earth’s early oceans. The team reports its findings online December 7 in Nature Geoscience.

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