Abodes for life in carbonaceous asteroids?

Oleg Abramov, Stephen J. Mojzsis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

18 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Thermal evolution models for carbonaceous asteroids that use new data for permeability, pore volume, and water circulation as input parameters provide a window into what are arguably the earliest habitable environments in the Solar System. Plausible models of the Murchison meteorite (CM) parent body show that to first-order, conditions suitable for the stability of liquid water, and thus pre- or post-biotic chemistry, could have persisted within these asteroids for tens of Myr. In particular, our modeling results indicate that a 200-km carbonaceous asteroid with a 40% initial ice content takes almost 60Myr to cool completely, with habitable temperatures being maintained for ~24Myr in the center. Yet, there are a number of indications that even with the requisite liquid water, thermal energy sources to drive chemical gradients, and abundant organic " building blocks" deemed necessary criteria for life, carbonaceous asteroids were intrinsically unfavorable sites for biopoesis. These controls include different degrees of exothermal mineral hydration reactions that boost internal warming but effectively remove liquid water from the system, rapid (1-10mmyr-1) inward migration of internal habitable volumes in most models, and limitations imposed by low permeabilities and small pore sizes in primitive undifferentiated carbonaceous asteroids. Our results do not preclude the existence of habitable conditions on larger, possibly differentiated objects such as Ceres and the Themis family asteroids due to presumed longer, more intense heating and possible long-lived water reservoirs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)273-279
Number of pages7
JournalIcarus
Volume213
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 1 2011

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Keywords

  • Astrobiology
  • Exobiology
  • Prebiotic environments
  • Thermal histories

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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