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.
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.
Also on HuffPost:
The Chesapeake Bay Crater is about 1.9 kilometres deep, and was formed over 35 million years ago when a piece of space debris slammed into the Atlantic Ocean near Virginia.
The Popigai Crater in Siberia, Russia might be the most profitable impact crater in the world. This 35.7 million-year-old site contains trillions of carats of diamonds that were created in the impact of the asteroid.
The Chicxulub Crater reaches 180 kilometres wide and 900 metres deep. It is located on the Yucatán peninsula in Mexico. It is said to be the "smoking gun" for dinosaur extinction — 70 per cent of the planet's species were wiped out by the comet that formed this crater 65 million years ago.
The Kara Crater is located in Nenetsia, Russia, and was formed approximately 70.3 million years ago. The crater estimated to be 65 kilometres in diameter, but is deeply eroded so it's difficult to know the exact size.
The Morokweng Crater was formed by an asteroid 145 million years ago. It's located in South Africa, and contains fossilized remains of the asteroid.
The Manicouagan Crater is one of the best preserved craters in the world. It's approximately 100 kilometres across, and contains an inner ring that spans 70 kilometres in diameter. It was formed 215 million years ago, and is now the site of Lake Manicouagan in Québec.
The Acraman Crater is located in South Australia and is approximately 590 million years old. The crater is deeply eroded so it is difficult to determine its exact size, but the total area could span as wide as 150 kilometres.
The Sudbury Crater is one of the oldest in the world, dating back approximately 1.8 billion years. Located in Ontario, this crater is easily accessible, making it ideal for geological research.
The Vredefort Crater in South Africa is potentially the largest and one of the oldest craters in the world. It has a radius of 190 kilometres, and was formed two billion years ago. It was also declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 2005.