Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid 'Probably Sent Life To Mars'

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The asteroid which killed the dinosaurs was large enough to send rocks containing life to other planets in our solar system.

An asteroid the size of a city is currently thought to have hit Earth near New Mexico about 66 million years ago, causing a mass-extinction which wiped out the dinosaurs and opened the way for the rise of the mammals on land - our direct ancestors.

A study from Penn State University suggests that the impact was large enough to eject asteroids back into space as far as Jupiter's moon Europa.

The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Astrobiology, suggests that thousands of Earth-asteroids had the potential to send the seeds of life throughout local space.

Thousands of rocks with the ingredients of life could have made it to Mars alone, the study says. It suggests that around 360,000 asteroids larger than three meters made it to Mars, 83,000 to Jupiter and 14,000 to Saturn, with at least 6 and 4 reaching their respective moons Europa and Titan.

Needless to say, that does not mean that life necessarily transferred from planet-to-planet, since the conditions for sustainable biology are not proven to have existed elsewhere in the universe - despite hopes that Mars might once have been hospitable.

"We find that rock capable of carrying life has likely transferred from both Earth and Mars to all of the terrestrial planets in the solar system and Jupiter," the study's lead author Rachel Worth told the BBC.

"Any missions to search for life on Titan or the moons of Jupiter will have to consider whether biological material is of independent origin, or another branch in Earth's family tree… I'd be surprised if life hasn't gotten to Mars".

The full paper can be read at Astrobiology.

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