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Fast delivery of meteorites to Earth after a major asteroid collision


Very large collisions in the asteroid belt could lead temporarily to a substantial increase in the rate of impacts of meteorites on Earth. Orbital simulations predict that fragments from such events may arrive considerably faster than the typical transit times of meteorites falling today, because in some large impacts part of the debris is transferred directly into a resonant orbit with Jupiter1,2. Such an efficient meteorite delivery track, however, has not been verified. Here we report high-sensitivity measurements of noble gases produced by cosmic rays in chromite grains from a unique suite of fossil meteorites3 preserved in 480 million year old sediments. The transfer times deduced from the noble gases are as short as 105 years, and they increase with stratigraphic height in agreement with the estimated duration of sedimentation. These data provide powerful evidence that this unusual meteorite occurrence was the result of a long-lasting rain of meteorites following the destruction of an asteroid, and show that at least one strong resonance in the main asteroid belt can deliver material into the inner Solar System within the short timescales suggested by dynamical models.

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Figure 1: Limestone beds in the Thorsberg quarry in southern Sweden where the fossil meteorites were deposited in the Ordovician 480 Myr ago3.
Figure 2: Distribution of 21Ne exposure ages.

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We thank M. Tassinari for help with recovery of chromite grains, I. Leya for discussions, G. Quitté and U. Wiechert for help in the laboratory and W. F. Bottke for comments on the manuscript. Field work was funded by the National Geographic Society.

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Correspondence to Philipp R. Heck.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Figures

Figure 1 shows the preservation state of chromite grains based on corrosion and ZnO content. Figure 2 shows a neon three-isotope diagram, allowing to deduce the composition of trapped Ne in each grain. (DOC 401 kb)

Supplementary Table 1

This table gives the complete helium and neon data as measured in the chromite grains, as well as calculated cosmogenic and nucleogenic neon concentrations and nominal exposure ages. (XLS 35 kb)

Supplementary Discussion

In this file the corrections for non-cosmogenic 3He and 21Ne are explained in more detail. In addition, we discuss possible reasons for the somewhat low nominal exposure age of sample Glaskarten 001. (DOC 25 kb)

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Heck, P., Schmitz, B., Baur, H. et al. Fast delivery of meteorites to Earth after a major asteroid collision. Nature 430, 323–325 (2004).

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