Asteroid shower on the Earth-Moon system 800 million years ago revealed by lunar craters

July 21, 2020

A research team led by Osaka University investigated the formation ages of 59 lunar craters with a diameter of approximately 20 km using the Terrain Camera (TC) onboard the lunar orbiter spacecraft Kaguya.

Kaguya (formerly SELENE, for SELenological and ENgineering Explorer), is a Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) lunar orbiter mission.

This group demonstrated that an asteroid of 100 km in diameter was disrupted 800 million years ago (800 Ma) and that at least (4-5)×1016 kg of meteoroids, approximately 30-60 times more than the Chicxulub impact, must have plunged into the Earth-Moon system. Their research results were published in Nature Communications.

Since a thin layer of iridium (Ir) enrichment (a rare earth element) 65.5 Ma had been detected worldwide, it is thought that an asteroid of 10-15 km in diameter hit the Earth and caused or greatly contributed to the Cretaceous mass extinction.

The probability of an asteroid of this size striking Earth is thought to be once in 100 million years. It is known that impact craters on Earth created before 600 Ma have been erased over the years by erosion, volcanism, and other geologic processes. Thus, to find out about ancient meteoroid impacts on Earth, they investigated the Moon, which has almost no erosion.

They investigated the formation age distribution of 59 large craters with diameters larger than approximately 20 km by examining the density of 0.1-1 km-diameter craters in the ejecta of these 59 craters. One of these examples is the Copernicus crater (93 km in diameter) and its surrounding craters (Figure 2). The density of 860 craters with diameter of 0.1-1 km (shown in green) was examined to derive the age of the Copernicus crater. As a result, 8 of 59 craters were found to be formed simultaneously (17 by a spike model), a world first. (Figure 3)

Considering crater scaling laws and collision probabilities with the Earth and Moon, at least (4-5)×1016 kg of meteoroids, approximately 30-60 times more than the Chicxulub impact, must have struck the Earth immediately before the Cryogenian (720-635 Ma), which was an era of great environmental and biological changes.

In addition, given the disruption age and orbit elements of existing asteroid families, it is highly likely that the disruption of the parent body of C-type asteroid Eulalia caused an asteroid shower. A C-type asteroid is a class expected to contain carbon in analogy to the carbonaceous chondrites (meteorites).

Because Eulalia's surface reflectance is similar to that of near-Earth C-type asteroid Ryugu, Eulalia has drawn attention as a parent body of a C-type Rubble pile, a celestial body consisting of numerous pieces of rock near the Earth. (Sugita et al. 2019)

Ryugu was probed by the asteroid explorer Hayabusa2, an asteroid sample-return mission operated by JAXA.

From these considerations, they concluded that sporadic meteorite bombardment due to the disruption of asteroids 800 Ma caused the following:This research suggests the following possibilities:Lead author Professor Terada says, "Our research results have provided a novel perspective on earth science and planetary science. They will yield a wide range of positive effects in various research fields."
The article, "Asteroid shower on the Earth-Moon system immediately before the Cryogenian period revealed by KAGUYA" was published in Nature Communications at DOI:

About Osaka University

Osaka University was founded in 1931 as one of the seven imperial universities of Japan and is now one of Japan's leading comprehensive universities with a broad disciplinary spectrum. This strength is coupled with a singular drive for innovation that extends throughout the scientific process, from fundamental research to the creation of applied technology with positive economic impacts. Its commitment to innovation has been recognized in Japan and around the world, being named Japan's most innovative university in 2015 (Reuters 2015 Top 100) and one of the most innovative institutions in the world in 2017 (Innovative Universities and the Nature Index Innovation 2017). Now, Osaka University is leveraging its role as a Designated National University Corporation selected by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology to contribute to innovation for human welfare, sustainable development of society, and social transformation.


Osaka University

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