A meteor strike nearly 2 billion years ago triggered one million years of volcanic eruptions, forever changing the course of evolution, according to a new study by Irish scientists.
Researchers analyzed volcanic rock fragments in the the 1.85 billion-year-old Sudbury crater in Canada. The volcanic rock obviously came from several different sources of lava, indicating the eruptions lasted for up to one million years.
A 2015 study estimated the Sudbury crater may have been created by a comet about 9.3 miles wide, which would be large enough to trigger such a massive eruption.
“The bombardment alone would not have done sufficient damage to have caused the comprehensive loss of primordial rocks on Earth, but if that bombardment also triggered additional eruptions, that could have buried the primordial rocks and plowed them back into the mantle,” Dr. Balz Kamber, a geochemist at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland who led the research, said in a press statement.
“About 3.8 billion to 4 billion years ago, we know the inner solar system experienced heavy bombardment from impactors,” Kamber said. “The older rocks on Earth were somehow destroyed by this bombardment.”
Such a huge meteor impact and the resulting volcanic activity would have had dire consequences for life on early Earth. The meteor struck just as life on Earth was developing into more complex forms, likely delaying that process by hundreds of millions of years.
Genetic analysis from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found life in the form of eukaryotes existed on Earth as early as 2.33 billion years ago, almost as soon as oxygen became a permanent part of the atmosphere. Eukaryotes are organisms whose cells contain a nucleus and other organelles enclosed within membranes. All modern animals, plants and fungus are eukaryotes.
The meteor strike may be the reason life on Earth was eukaryotic for so long before developing into multi-cellular forms. Scientists believe that the first very complex multi-cellular animals did not appear until about 600 million years ago and were not diversified until roughly 542 million years ago in the Cambrian “explosion.”
In March, scientists announced the discovery of a 3.7-billion-year-old fossil fossil which indicated that the origin of simple single cell life likely started up to 4.5 billion years ago. Before this discovery, the oldest confirmed life on Earth was dated to 3.4 billion years ago, leading scientists to speculate that life probably started around 3.7 billion years ago.
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