Helmholtz-Alliance: Impacts and Planetary Evolution

14 April 2010

 Impact Crater in Arizona (Credit: NASA)
zum Bild Impact Crater in Arizona (Credit: NASA)

A Helmholtz research alliance on the subject of “Planetary Evolution and Life” was established in 2008. The research alliance brings together some non-university research institutes and a number of German and international universities. The alliance topic “Impacts and Planetary Evolution” is under the responsibility of the Asteroids and Comets Department.
Impacts of minor bodies onto planets have obviously affected their habitability and the development of ecosystems during all stages of their history. On the one hand impacts may have supported the formation of life: comets and carbonaceous chondrites may have been important sources of water and pre-biotic molecules to seed the surface of the planets. On the other hand impacts pose a significant threat for developed biospheres.

Our goal is an evaluation of the consequences of impacts, such as the Late Heavy Bombardment (3.8 Gigayears ago), for the early phase of development of life on Earth and other planets, and of the effects caused by a single large collision on the origin and evolution of planetary biospheres.

To study the role of impacts in such a broad context, together with our partners at the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin and at the Observatoire de la Côte d'Azur in Nice specific models of the chemical composition of impactors and the environment in which they formed are developed . Furthermore, simulations of physical parameters of different impactor types, of dynamical evolution of the impactors, and of hypervelocity impact processes on various planetary surfaces are performed.

Our goal is to improve our knowledge of:

  • the origin and distribution of volatile organic matter and water in the solar nebula,
  • their transport to the planets and
  • possible consequences of impacts for the development and destruction of life.

More details of our project are summarized in our Alliance Brochure.

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