Extraterrestrial Flux of Potentially Prebiotic C, N, and P to the Early Earth

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With growing evidence for a heavy bombardment period ending 4–3.8 billion years ago, meteorites and comets may have been an important source of prebiotic carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus on the early Earth. Life may have originated shortly after the late-heavy bombardment, when concentrations of organic compounds and reactive phosphorus were enough to “kick life into gear”. This work quantifies the sources of potentially prebiotic, extraterrestrial C, N, and P and correlates these fluxes with a comparison to total Ir fluxes, and estimates the effect of atmosphere on the survival of material. We find (1) that carbonaceous chondrites were not a good source of organic compounds, but interplanetary dust particles provided a constant, steady flux of organic compounds to the surface of the Earth, (2) extraterrestrial metallic material was much more abundant on the early Earth, and delivered reactive P in the form of phosphide minerals to the Earth’s surface, and (3) large impacts provided substantial local enrichments of potentially prebiotic reagents. These results help elucidate the potential role of extraterrestrial matter in the origin of life.

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Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres, v. 38, issue 1, p. 5-21