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Astrobiology (general): June 2009


The 39+/-2Ma Haughton impact structure on Devon Island comprises a thick target succession of sedimentary rocks, mainly carbonates. The carbonates contain pre-impact organic matter, including fossil biological markers. Haughton is located in an area where no major thermal event has affected the sedimentary succession after heating caused by impact. This makes Haughton uniquely suitable for studies concerning the preservation of fossil biological markers following an impact event.

With the assumption that future attempts to explore our Solar System for life will be limited by economic constraints, we have formulated a series of principles to guide future searches: (1) the discovery of life that has originated independently of our own would have greater significance than evidence for panspermia; (2) an unambiguous identification of living beings (or the fully preserved, intact remains of such beings) is more desirable than the discovery of markers or fossils that would inform us of the presence of life but not its composition; (3) we should initially seek carbon-based life that employs a set of monomers and polymers substantially different than our own, which would effectively balance the need for ease of detection with that of establishing a separate origin; (4) a "follow-the-carbon" strategy appears optimal for locating such alternative carbon-based life.