The Role of Meteorite Impacts in the Origin of LifeOPEN ACCESS 

G.R. Osinski, C.S. Cockell, A. Pontefract, and H.M. Sapers

Review article
Published Online: 1 Sep 2020



“The conditions, timing, and setting for the origin of life on Earth and whether life exists elsewhere in our solar system and beyond represent some of the most fundamental scientific questions of our time. Although the bombardment of planets and satellites by asteroids and comets has long been viewed as a destructive process that would have presented a barrier to the emergence of life and frustrated or extinguished life, we provide a comprehensive synthesis of data and observations on the beneficial role of impacts in a wide range of prebiotic and biological processes. In the context of previously proposed environments for the origin of life on Earth, we discuss how meteorite impacts can generate both subaerial and submarine hydrothermal vents, abundant hydrothermal–sedimentary settings, and impact analogues for volcanic pumice rafts and splash pools. Impact events can also deliver and/or generate many of the necessary chemical ingredients for life and catalytic substrates such as clays as well. The role that impact cratering plays in fracturing planetary crusts and its effects on deep subsurface habitats for life are also discussed. In summary, we propose that meteorite impact events are a fundamental geobiological process in planetary evolution that played an important role in the origin of life on Earth. We conclude with the recommendation that impact craters should be considered prime sites in the search for evidence of past life on Mars. Furthermore, unlike other geological processes such as volcanism or plate tectonics, impact cratering is ubiquitous on planetary bodies throughout the Universe and is independent of size, composition, and distance from the host star. Impact events thus provide a mechanism with the potential to generate habitable planets, moons, and asteroids throughout the Solar System and beyond. “