Thus far, Earth is the one planet we all know of that has continents.

Precisely how they fashioned and developed is unclear, however we do know – as a result of the sides of continents 1000’s of miles aside match up – that, at one time way back, Earth’s landmass was concentrated in a single huge supercontinent.


Since that is not what the planet appears to be like like as we speak, one thing will need to have triggered that supercontinent to interrupt aside. Now, we now have new proof to recommend that big meteorite impacts performed a big function.

The smoking gun consists of crystals of the mineral zircon, excavated from a craton in Western Australia, a bit of Earth’s crust that has remained steady for over a billion years.

Often called the Pilbara Craton, it’s the best-preserved chunk of crust on the planet… and the zircon crystals inside it comprise proof of historic meteorite impacts earlier than the continents broke aside.

“Learning the composition of oxygen isotopes in these zircon crystals revealed a ‘top-down’ course of beginning with the melting of rocks close to the floor and progressing deeper, in step with the geological impact of large meteorite impacts,” defined geologist Tim Johnson of Curtin College in Australia.

“Our analysis supplies the primary stable proof that the processes that finally fashioned the continents started with large meteorite impacts, just like these chargeable for the extinction of the dinosaurs, however which occurred billions of years earlier.”


The work was carried out on 26 rock samples containing fragments of zircon, relationship between 3.6 and a couple of.9 billion years outdated.

The analysis crew fastidiously analyzed isotopes of oxygen; particularly, the ratios of oxygen-18 and oxygen-16, which have 10 and eight neutrons, respectively. These ratios are utilized in paleogeology to find out the formation temperature of the rock by which the isotopes are discovered. 

Based mostly on these ratios, the crew was capable of distinguish three distinct and elementary phases within the formation and evolution of the Pilbara Craton.

The primary stage is the formation of a giant proportion of zircons in step with partial melting of the crust. This partial melting, the researchers present, was probably the results of bombardment by meteorites, which heated the planetary crust on influence.

The oldest cluster of those zircons, in response to the crew’s interpretation, was the results of a single large influence that led to the formation of the craton.

The second stage was a interval of remodeling and stabilization of the crustal nucleus, adopted by the third stage – a interval of melting and granite formation. This stabilized nucleus would then, a lot later, evolve to change into as we speak’s continents, as did the cratons discovered on different continents around the globe.


Nevertheless, many meteorites have pelted Earth in eons previous, in numbers a lot larger than the variety of continents. It is solely the biggest impacts that would generate sufficient warmth to create the cratons, which seem like twice as thick as their surrounding lithosphere.

These findings are in step with beforehand proposed fashions for the formation of cratons around the globe – however represent, the researchers stated, the strongest proof but for the speculation.

Nevertheless, it is only one craton, out of round 35 recognized. To make the proof even stronger nonetheless, the crew might want to evaluate their outcomes with extra samples from different cratons, to see if their mannequin is constant globally.

“Knowledge associated to different areas of historic continental crust on Earth seems to indicate patterns just like these acknowledged in Western Australia,” Johnson stated. “We wish to take a look at our findings on these historic rocks to see if, as we suspect, our mannequin is extra extensively relevant.”

The analysis has been printed in Nature.


By 24H

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