Laboratory investigations of the survivability of bacteria in hypervelocity impacts

Burchell, M. J.; Shrine, N. R. G.; Mann, J.; Bunch, A. W.; Brandao, P.; Zarnecki, J. and Galloway, J. A. (2001). Laboratory investigations of the survivability of bacteria in hypervelocity impacts. Advances in Space Research, 28(4) pp. 707–712.



It is now well established that material naturally moves around the Solar System, even from planetary surface to planetary surface. Accordingly, the idea that life is distributed throughout space and did not necessarily originate on the Earth but migrated here from elsewhere (Panspermia) is increasingly deemed worthy of consideration. If life arrived at the Earth from space, its relative speed will typically be of order many km s(-1), and the resulting collision with the Earth and its atmosphere will be in the hypervelocity regime. A mechanism for the bacteria to survive such an impact is required. Therefore a programme of hypervelocity impacts in the laboratory at (4.5 +/- 0.6) km s(-1) was carried out using bacteria (Rhodococcus) laden projectiles. After impacts on a variety of target materials (rock, glass and metal) attempts were made to culture Rhodococcus from the surface of the resulting craters and also from the target material ejected during crater formation. Control shots with clean projectiles yielded no evidence for Rhodococcus growth from any crater surface or ejecta. When projectiles doped with Rhodococcus were used no impact crater surface yielded colonies of Rhodococcus. However, for four shots of bacteria into rock (two on chalk and two on granite) the ejecta was afterwards found to give colonies of Rhodococcus. This was not true for shots onto glass. In addition, shots into aerogel (density 96 kg m(-3)) were also carried out (two with clean projectiles and two with projectiles with Rhodococcus). This crudely simulated aero-capture in a planetary atmosphere. No evidence for Rhodococcus growth was found from the projectiles captured in the aerogel from any of the four shots. (C) 2001 COSPAR. Published by Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

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