Scientists discover fragment of 'missing link' asteroid that led to explosion of life on Earth

Sample from a Swedish quarry is thought to be from a 'bullet' asteroid that set off a massive meteor shower 470 million years ago

Scientists in Sweden have discovered a never-before seen class of meteorite that could be the ‘missing link’ between a gigantic collision in the asteroid belt 470 million years ago and the subsequent explosion of diverse life forms here on Earth.

Although it’s usually thought that meteorite impacts are disastrous for species on Earth (the classic example is the colossal impact thought to have killed off the dinosaurs 66 million years ago) there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that these events can also be beneficial to the overall diversity on the planet.

It's thought that just such an impact – or rather, a string of them – dramatically boosted biodiversity on the planet during the Ordovician Period some 470 million years ago. It's believed that a collision of two asteroids (or possibly an asteroid and a comet) out in space caused a shower of meteors to rain down on Earth.

Over time fragments of this meteor shower have been found around the planet and dated to 470 million years ago – but until now scientists had not found any evidence of the ‘killer’ asteroid that started this chain of events.

During the Ordovician Period most life on Earth was found in the ocean, with jawless fish, molluscs and insect-like arthropods making up the bulk of the species roll-call. However, a study from 2008 showed that the planet went through a “major phase of biodiversification” at this time shortly after “the largest documented asteroid breakup event during the past few billion years”.

The evidence for this breakup comes from the abundance of L-chondrite meteorites – the second most common meteorite type - fragments of which first started appearing on Earth around 470 million years ago.

"Something we didn't really know about before was flying around and crashed into the L-chondrites," said Gary Huss, co-author of the study that analysed the sample (published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters). This newly-discovered fragment is thought to be that very object – the mysterious ‘bullet’.

The composition of the fragment differs from known meteorite samples and its exposure age  – the length of time it sailed through space – places it at the 'scene of the crime’ when meteors rained down on the planet during the Ordovician Period.

“It's a very, very strange and unusual find," Birger Schmitz, the lead author of the study, told Live Science. "I think [it] adds to the understanding that the meteorites that come down on Earth today may not be entirely representative of what is out there.”

It’s not clear exactly why the Ordovician meteor shower led to a greater variety of life on the plane although some more far-fetched theories suggest that life itself was ‘seeded’ by organisms hitching a ride on asteroids.

A more likely explanation is that the impact craters caused by the collisions provided perfect test-beds for developing life. When meteorites hit the surface of the planet they scooped out bubbling pools of minerals and nutrients that served - in Carl Zimmer's words - as “natural beakers that synthesized new chemicals essential for life”. However, even this is still just a theory - and the impacts might have also fostered life by creating new habitats, like restructured shorelines.

If further geochemical tests on the newly discovered fragment confirm its suspected origins then scientists will have pinned down another piece of the solar system’s history – but figuring out what happened closer to home might be more difficult still.  

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

£45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone