Sudbury

Clues to origins of life may be found in Sudbury, Ont. crater

A research team from Dublin’s Trinity College have found geological clues in Sudbury, Ont. that may help unlock more secrets of life’s origins.

Impact crater in Sudbury, Ont. provides valuable geological information for a team of researchers

Artist's conception of a giant impactor. (courtesy NASA)

A research team headed by Dublin's Trinity College in Ireland have found geological clues in Sudbury, Ont. that may help unlock more secrets of life's origins.

University of Bern PhD student Edel O'Sullivan spent parts of three summers studying the Sudbury crater to better understand effects of a meteor's impact 1.8 billion years ago.

The accessibility of the crater, and the extent to which it was preserved, allowed O'Sullivan's team the opportunity to recreate the environment prior to, and immediately following, the meteor's impact.

Once the site was accessed, the team could then extract samples and view the various chemistry sequences of the region's geology.

Edel O'Sullivan, PhD candidate at the University of Bern, Switzerland. The results of O'Sullivan's research will have a significant impact on other geological studies, as only two other craters, Vredefort in South Africa and Chicxulub in Mexico, share the Sudbury crater's characteristics but are not as well-preserved. (Edel O'Sullivan)

"The whole place was just blasted apart," said O'Sullivan, "the rock was melted, shattered, all fell back in and you could see that there was a huge hydro-thermal system just boiling away in the crater."

Although impact craters are typically associated with destruction, O' Sullivan says that some believe these hydro-thermal systems provide the proper conditions for new life by creating a shelter against harsh conditions.

Researchers out of Trinity College Dublin say the crater in Sudbury could hold the answer to how life is created on Earth. We spoke about the idea with Edel O'Sullivan who is part of the team that came to Sudbury to do the research. 8:35

The results of O'Sullivan's research will have a significant impact on other geological studies, as only two other craters, Vredefort in South Africa and Chicxulub in Mexico, share the Sudbury crater's characteristics but are not as well-preserved.

The interest in the Sudbury crater isn't confined to geologists, said O'Sullivan.

Biologists, geneticists and environmentalists will likely take note of the team's findings, which O'Sullivan hopes will open the door for new research into impact craters.

"It's really kind of a multidisciplinary project," said O'Sullivan, "there's a really, really strong interest in the origin of life."

Read O'Sullivan's research here.

With files from Samantha Lui. Packaged/edited by Casey Stranges.

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