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Researchers Find Clues To Origins Of Life In Sudbury Basin

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An artist's rendering of an asteroid hitting the Earth. | ANDRZEJ WOJCICKI via Getty Images

A crater in Ontario created billions of years ago might contain clues about the origins of life on Earth, according to a new study.

A research team headed by Trinity College in Dublin recently published a report proposing that the Sudbury Basin might have sheltered emerging life after the impact of a comet.

Edel O’Sullivan, a PhD student from the University of Bern in Switzerland and report co-author, told CBC News that the team reconstructed the conditions after the comet landed approximately 1.85 billion years ago.

The report said that the Sudbury Basin was an ideal candidate for this study because of its size and accessibility. It was formed long after life began on Earth — an estimated 3.8 billion years ago — but the samples that the team collected might help determine if life could have emerged after a comet or asteroid hit.

sudbury basin The Sudbury crater is approximately 60 kilometres in length. (Photo: NASAWorldWind)

The crater may provide evidence for more than the origins of life on Earth. O’Sullivan said that this research could direct study towards life on other planets too, like Mars.

In an interview with the National Post, O’Sullivan said that their study “hopes in part to reveal how life began to re-establish itself after the deadly impact, and whether the crater itself may have been the first place for life to restart.”

O’Sullivan explained that the crater was located in the middle of a shallow ocean, and the rim was sticking up over the top of the water. The heat of the comet’s impact caused molten rock to pool in the crater, warming up the water inside and creating a hydrothermal system, which is essentially a system of hot water flow.

“This gives the energy that is required for the synthesis of life,” she said.

As the National Post reports, past studies have suggested that life may have originated in hydrothermal environments, but this research at the Sudbury Basin is the first to suggest physical evidence.

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