Arriving Via Meteor

The age-old question for humanity is: “How did we come to be here?”

The answer may turn out to be: “Well, we arrived via meteorite.”

That’s one of the intriguing issues raised by scientific analysis of a walnut-sized chunk of meteor that created a bright fireball before landing on a frozen Strawberry Lake in Hamburg, Michigan in January 2018. Pieces of the meteor were swiftly retrieved from the icy surface of the lake by meteor hunters, before they could be contaminated by exposure to Earth’s spores and microbes, and were then carted off to be examined by scientists. The scientists determined, through application of uranium dating principles, that the pieces of the meteor were almost unimaginably old, and had been formed about 4.5 billion years ago, when the solar system was young. And the scientists also found that the meteor was seeded with more than 2,000 organic molecules, rich in carbon compounds — which is one of the elemental building blocks of life on Earth.

Because the meteor made its lonely 4.5 billion year journey without being affected by much of anything before alighting on the frozen crust of Strawberry Lake, scientists believe that the organic compounds it features are likely to be similar to the compounds that were brought to a young Earth by meteors shortly after the Earth’s formation. And in those early days of the solar system, meteor strikes were much more common — meaning that meteor bombardment could have left the young Earth littered with carbon compounds, just waiting for the spark that turned them into the most primitive forms of microbial life. Exactly how that happened is still a matter for scientific — or religious, or philosophical — debate.

I hope to live long enough to see humans establish a strong foothold in space, and on other planets, and maybe even get up beyond the Earth’s atmosphere myself. Who knows? It may turn out that, when we venture into space, we’re really going . . . back home.

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