Diatoms on the moon?

Research has helped point to signs of ancient life being littered across the moon: Kent physicists have tested what would happen if a piece of rock containing microscopic fossils from Earth was launched into space and hit the surface of the moon. In order to do this, Professor Mark Burchell and researchers from the University’s Centre for Astrophysics simulated the condition that fossilised diatoms – microscopic algae with detailed shells – might have faced if travelling from earth to the moon.

The team turned fossil-filled rock into powder which was mixed with water and frozen to replicate a meteoroid. The replica meteoroid was then fired into a bag of water using a large gas-powered gun to allow it experience the impact of being launched into orbit, whilst the rapid deceleration and high pressure as it hit the water simulated how it might have smashed into the moon at high speed.

This suggests that if earth meteorites are ever found on the moon – in the same way that we find lunar meteorites on earth – then they may contain fossils from the Earth’s past.

Although this idea has existed for over a decade, the researchers have now shown by simulating the ‘explosion’ that it may be possible. This could then shed light on what life was like on Earth.

The research has been published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Survival of fossils under extreme shocks induced by hypervelocity impacts.

Source: University of Kent / Picture: Ernst Haeckel, 1904,  public domain