[ExI] Life must be everywhere!
anders at aleph.se
Fri Apr 13 10:14:04 UTC 2012
Ì wasn't too convinced by the paper because it mostly counted rocks
rather than cells. The authors were much more interested in how many
pebbles could get from point A to B than what was in them.
Let's assume 90 kg/m^2 of biomass (double a tropical forest; I am
assuming just as much biomass in the lithoautotropic ecosystem as on the
surface to be optimistic). They suggest that ejecta amounting to 30% of
mass of the impactor (sounds *very* optimistic!). So some
0.3*pi*5000^2*90=2.1e9 kg of biomass ends up in space (5000 from the
radius of the impact site). The ejected total mass is 3*10^14 kg, so the
fraction that is biomass is 7e-6 - that would indeed allow a few hundred
million bacteria on each 1 cm pebble.
However, much of this material will be subjected to denaturating
temperatures (it was a 96 teraton explosion), and worse, the
distribution of cells is uneven: the vast majority of material will be
from deep crust and the impactor itself, both which are likely
cell-free. I don't think anybody knows how to calculate the denaturating
effects, but they are likely severe. The uneven distribution on the
other hand might be roughly approximated: if we assume the ejecta is an
equal mix of impactor and the same volume of Earth, that only the top
kilometer of rock is life-bearing, and that pebbles keep together, the
fraction of ejecta that is from the life layer is (pi*5000^2*1000) /
(4*pi*5000^3/3)=0.15 - just 15% of the pebbles will have cells, the rest
are from impactors or deep crust.
I certainly cannot rule out panspermia this way; life can be amazingly
hardy, and it is enough to just get a few cells into a survivable
environment for them to spread. But I suspect the denaturation of impact
is a massive factor that reduces the viability of launched pebbles even
before they are subjected to space conditions. If the denaturation
reduces the number of viable pebbles by just two orders of magnitude
(which sounds eminently likely), then a thousand pebbles reaching Gliese
581 will not transfer life. The numbers within the solar system still
seem to be high enough to allow transfer (and KT was just one recent big
impact), so if it is possible I expect local panspermia to have occurred.
Future of Humanity Institute
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