The preservation of fossil biomarkers during meteorite impact events: experimental evidence from biomarker-rich projectiles and target rocks

J. Parnell, S. Bowden, P. Lindgren, M. Burchell, D. Milner, M. Price, E.C. Baldwin, I. A. Crawford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


A Devonian siltstone from Orkney, Scotland, shows survival of biomarkers in high-velocity impact experiments. The biomarkers were detected in ejecta fragments from experiments involving normal incidence of steel projectiles at 5-6 km s-1, and in projectile fragments from impact experiments into sand and water at 2-5 km s-1. The associated peak shock pressures were calculated to be in the range of 110-147 GPa for impacts of the steel projectiles into the siltstone target, and hydrocode simulations are used to show the variation of peak pressure with depth in the target and throughout the finite volume projectiles. Thermally sensitive biomarker ratios, including ratios of hopanoids and steranes, and the methylphenanthrene ratio, showed an increase in thermal maturity in the ejecta, and especially the projectile, fragments. Measurement of absolute concentrations of selected biomarkers indicates that changes in biomarker ratios reflect synthesis of new material rather than selective destruction. Their presence in ejecta and projectile fragments suggests that fossil biomarkers may survive hypervelocity impacts, and that experiments using biomarker-rich rock have high potential for testing survival of organic matter in a range of impact scenarios.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1340-1358
Number of pages19
JournalMeteoritics & Planetary Sciences
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2010


  • polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
  • carbonaceous Antarctic micrometeorites
  • amino acids
  • hypervelocity impacts
  • organic molecules
  • oblique impacts
  • extraterrestrial delivery
  • Martian meteorites
  • cometary delivery
  • shock pressures

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