Cometary delivery of organic molecules to the early earthIt has long been speculated that earth accreted prebiotic organic molecules important for the origins of life from impacts of carbonaceous asteroids and comets during the period of heavy bombardment 4.5 x 10 to the 9th to 3.8 x 10 to the 9th years ago. A comprehensive treatment of comet-asteroid interaction with the atmosphere, surface impact, and resulting organic pyrolysis demonstrates that organics will not survive impacts at velocities greater than about 10 kilometers per second and that even comets and asteroids as small as 100 meters in radius cannot be aerobraked to below this velocity in 1-bar atmospheres. However, for plausible dense (10-bar carbon dioxide) early atmospheres, it is found that 4.5 x 10 to the 9th years ago earth was accreting intact cometary organics at a rate of at least about 10 to the 6th to 10 to the 7th kilograms per year, a flux that thereafter declined with a half-life of about 10 to the 8th years. These results may be put in context by comparison with terrestrial oceanic and total biomasses, about 3 x 10 to the 12th kilograms and about 6 x 10 to the 14th kilograms, respectively.
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Chyba, Christopher F. (Cornell Univ. Ithaca, NY, United States)
Thomas, Paul J. (Cornell Univ. Ithaca, NY, United States)
Sagan, Carl (Cornell University Ithaca, NY, United States)
Brookshaw, Leigh (Yale University New Haven, CT, United States)