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Article
Nature 342, 139 - 142 (09 November 1989); doi:10.1038/342139a0

Annihilation of ecosystems by large asteroid impacts on the early Earth

Norman H. Sleep*, Kevin J. Zahnle, James F. Kasting & Harold J. Morowitz§

*Department of Geophysics, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California 94035, USA
Department of Geosciences, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, USA
§Biology Department, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia 22030–4444, USA

Large asteroid impacts produced globally lethal conditions by evaporating large volumes of ocean water on the early Earth. The Earth may have been continuously habitable by ecosystems that did not depend on photosynthesis as early as 4.44 Gyr BP (before present). Only a brief interval after 3.8 Gyr exists between the time when obligate photosynthetic organisms could continuously evolve and the time when the palaeontological record indicates highly evolved photosynthetic ecosystems.

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