Hypervelocity impact experiments in the laboratory relating to lunar astrobiology

M. J. Burchell, J. Parnell, S. A. Bowden, I. A. Crawford

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Abstract

The results of a set of laboratory impact experiments (speeds in the range 1-5 km s(-1)) are reviewed. They are discussed in the context of terrestrial impact ejecta impacting the Moon and hence lunar astrobiology through using the Moon to learn about the history of life on Earth. A review of recent results indicates that survival of quite complex organic molecules can be expected in terrestrial meteorites impacting the lunar surface, but they may have undergone selective thermal processing both during ejection from the Earth and during lunar impact. Depending on the conditions of the lunar impact (speed, angle of impact etc.) the shock pressures generated can cause significant but not complete sterilisation of any microbial load on a meteorite (e.g. at a few GPa 1-0.1% of the microbial load can survive, but at 20 GPa this falls to typically 0.01-0.001%). For more sophisticated biological products such as seeds (trapped in rocks) the lunar impact speeds generate shock pressures that disrupt the seeds (experiments show this occurs at approximately 1 GPa or semi-equivalently 1 km s(-1)). Overall, the delivery of terrestrial material of astrobiological interest to the Moon is supported by these experiments, although its long term survival on the Moon is a separate issue not discussed here.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-64
Number of pages10
JournalEarth, Moon, and Planets
Volume107
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2010

Keywords

  • lunar
  • impact
  • astrobiology
  • hypervelocity
  • bacterial-spores
  • survival
  • panspermia
  • lithopanspermia
  • space

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