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Asteroids Bombarded Earth 10 Times As Believed

New research has revealed that Earth was bombarded with ten times as many objects from space, like meteors and asteroids, as previously believed during its early history.

The frequent violent collisions may have played an important role in both the geological and atmospheric evolution of our planet.

The authors of the paper, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, say that the period of increased pelting of Earth with meteors and asteroids occurred between 3.5 and 2.5 billion years ago.

“We have derived a new model for the bombardment of the ancient Earth, and found that collisions were up to a factor of 10 more frequent than previously thought in the time frame 3.5-2.5 billion years ago,” Simone Marchi, the paper’s lead author and scientist at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, told Newsweek.

The new research could challenge the perception that scientists have of our planet’s development from when it was just around a billion years old.

Not only was the bombardment of Earth by objects from space more frequent than scientists realized, but Marchi said some of these objects were also tremendous in size.

“We estimated that the Earth in this time frame was hit by asteroids six miles across or larger every 15 million years or so,” she added, explaining that this is about the size of the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs around 66-million-years-ago. “Some of these impactors could have been up to 50 miles across.”

While such impacts would eventually go on to be considered more destructive, these early bombardments could have been of vital importance in affecting Earth’s chemistry and its atmosphere.

“The chemistry of the impactor material is very different from that of the surface of the Earth, and therefore has the potential to alter the chemistry of the atmosphere,” Marchi, who is also the author of the book Colliding Worlds that explains how cosmic encounters can shape planets and life itself, said.

“In our work, we looked at how impactor materials could have affected the concentration of atmospheric oxygen,” Marchi says. “The chemistry of impact materials is such that they readily combine with oxygen, removing it from the atmosphere.

“So, a large flux of impacts could have potentially delayed the rise of atmospheric oxygen.”

The team of researchers reached the conclusion that Earth suffered ten times as many impacts from space as previously believed by measuring so-called “impact spherules” in the geological record.

Impact spherules form when asteroids crash into Earth and vaporize rock. This vapor rises through the atmosphere and cools, eventually falling back down to the planet as tiny particles that are preserved in rock.

Scientists have used impact spherules for many years to investigate the details of asteroid strikes, but what Marchi and her team discovered was that current models of just how many impact spherules should form after an impact suggest that asteroid and meteor strikes were much more common than we had realized.

The early solar system was a much more violent place than it is today and Earth was in the firing line. Impacts were particularly prevalent during a period known as the late heavy bombardment, about 4.5 to 3.8 billion years ago, when failed planets and smaller asteroids slammed into the planets of the solar system.

Marchi, who told Newsweek she was inspired to conduct the research due to her fascination with the evolution of the ancient Earth and how this was shaped by cosmic collisions, said that the next step for the research is to examine ancient terrestrial rocks to find more about the signatures of these ancient catastrophes.

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