We examine a low energy mechanism for the transfer of meteoroids between two planetary systems embedded in a star cluster using quasi-parabolic orbits of minimal energy. Using Monte Carlo simulations, we find that the exchange of meteoroids could have been significantly more efficient than previously estimated. Our study is relevant to astrobiology as it addresses whether life on Earth could have been transferred to other planetary systems in the solar system's birth cluster and whether life on Earth could have been transferred here from beyond the solar system. In the solar system, the timescale over which solid material was delivered to the region from where it could be transferred via this mechanism likely extended to several hundred million years (as indicated by the 3.8-4.0 Ga epoch of the Late Heavy Bombardment). This timescale could have overlapped with the lifetime of the Solar birth cluster (~100-500 Myr). Therefore, we conclude that lithopanspermia is an open possibility if life had an early start. Adopting parameters from the minimum mass solar nebula, considering a range of planetesimal size distributions derived from observations of asteroids and Kuiper Belt Objects and theoretical coagulation models, and taking into account Oort Cloud formation models, the expected number of bodies with mass > 10 kg that could have been transferred between the Sun and its nearest cluster neighbor could be of the order of 1E14-3E16, with transfer timescales of 10s Myr. We estimate that of the order of 3E8 x l(km) could potentially be life-bearing, where l(km) is the depth of the Earth crust in km that was ejected as the result of the early bombardment.
- Pub Date:
- August 2012
- Astrophysics - Earth and Planetary Astrophysics
- Accepted by Astrobiology. Submitted: Sep. 21, 2011. Accepted: May 2, 2012. 39 pages. 21 figures. arXiv admin note: substantial text overlap with arXiv:0808.3268