Quirks & Quarks·quirks and quarks

Meteorites could be the reason we walk the Earth today

A new theory suggests that meteorites were the source of life on Earth, not hydrothermal vents deep in the oceans.
Life may have begun on Earth thanks to meteors like this one. (Ollie Taylor)

There are two prominent theories about how and where life on Earth began. One is that the source of life on our planet was hydrothermal vents found deep in the oceans. According to this idea, hot, pressurized water mixed with the rich chemicals from the vents then caused reactions that resulted in life. The other theory is that life came to Earth by way of meteorites. 

The meteorites provided small, warm ponds with the molecules essential for life. 

The study authored by Ben Pearce, left, and Ralph Pudritz, suggests there were enough meteorites carrying the raw ingredients for RNA splashing into enough ponds in the early Earth to produce ample opportunities for RNA to form. (J.D. Howell/McMaster University)

Ben Pearce, a Ph.D. student in astrobiology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. used mathematical modelling to create the conditions necessary for testing both hypothesis. 

The experiment determined that the warm ponds theory was the more likely source because meteorites provided greater concentrations of RNA polymers, which are the building blocks of life.