A new concept is proposed, according to which the plasma and collision processes accompanying hypervelocity impacts of meteorites can contribute to the arising of the conditions on early Earth, which are necessary for the appearance of primary forms of living matter. It was shown that the processes necessary for the emergence of living matter could have started in a plasma torch of meteorite impact and have continued in an impact crater in the case of the arising of the simplest life form.
It is generally accepted that planets are the optimal place for the origin and evolution of life. In the process of forming the planetary systems the meteorites, space bodies feeding planet growth, appear around stars. In the process of Earth's formation, meteorite sizes ranged from hundreds and thousands of kilometres. These space bodies consisted mostly of the planetesimals and comet nucleus. During acceleration in Earth's gravitational field they reached hypervelocity and, hitting the surface of planet, generated powerful blowouts of hot plasma in the form of a torch. They also created giant-size craters and dense dust clouds. These bodies were composed of all elements needed for the synthesis of organic compounds, with the content of carbon being up to 5%–15%.
A new idea of possible synthesis of the complex organic compounds in the hypervelocity impact-generated plasma torch was proposed and experimentally confirmed. A previously unknown and experimentally corroborated feature of the impact-generated plasma torch allowed a new concept of the prehistory of life to be developed. According to this concept the intensive synthesis of complex organic compounds arose during meteoritic bombardment in the first 0.5 billion years at the stage of the planet's formation. This most powerful and destructive action in Earth's history could have played a key role and prepared conditions for the origin of life.
In the interstellar gas–dust clouds, the synthesis of simple organic matter could have been explained by an identical process occurring in the plasma torch of hypervelocity collisions between submicron size dust particles. It is assumed that the processes occurred in the highly unbalanced hot plasma simultaneously with the synthesis of simple and complicated organic compounds, thereby ensuring their ordering and assembly.
Bona fide experimental evidence presented below indicates that the physical fields generated in the plasma environment in the process of the formation and expansion of the torch meet the main requirements toward “true” local chiral fields. These fields were very likely to be capable to trigger the initial, weak breaking of enantiomer symmetry and determine the “sign” of the asymmetry of the bioorganic world.
These fields could have worked as “trapping” fields influencing spontaneous processes occurring in highly overheated and nonequilibrium plasma in the state that is far from the thermodynamical branch of equilibrium and may have contributed to the formation of an environment needed for the synthesis of homochiral molecular structures, which, in turn, were needed for the emergence of the primary forms of living matter.
It has been shown experimentally that the plasma-chemical processes in the torch have high catalytic properties and assure the rise of the chemical reaction rates by 10–100 million times. In the process of the plasma flyaway this in turn can assure the fast formation of simple and complicated organic compounds, including hyper-branched polymers. It is possible to assume that predominantly inorganic substances from meteorites were used for the synthesis of complicated organic compounds on early Earth.
A laboratory experiment with hypervelocity impact plasma torch modelling by a laser with a Q-switch mode has shown the possibility of high-molecular organic compound synthesis, with mass of approximately 5000 a.m.u. by meteorite impact with an effective diameter of 100 mkm. The target contained only H, C, N and O elements in inorganic forms. The approximation of the curve received in these experiments has shown that molecular structures comparable in mass with the protoviroid (a hypothetical primogenitor of the biosphere) and could have been synthesized as a result of the impact of a meteorite of a millimetre-size range.
Observable characteristics of the synthesis processes suggest high catalytic activity of the plasma medium and high speed of plasma-chemical reactions, combined with ordering and assemblage processes. This suggests that the plasma torch with a huge local density of energy and matter may be the optimal medium for the synthesis of complex organic compounds needed for prebiotic evolution and the development of the primary form of living matter.
A new view of the impact crater provides the most interesting and unexpected consequence of the concept proposed. When considering the problem, it became evident that at a prebiotic stage of evolution there should be an environment in which a photogenic creature could have survived. The crater of the meteoric impact, which is capable of producing ‘a primogenitor of the biosphere’ environment sated with organic matter, moderate temperature and water for considerable time and becoming ‘a life cradle’, appears to be such an environment.
Having enormous energy, the meteorite impact is capable of injecting the newly created complicated organic compounds deep into the space body surfaces, including subsurface water reservoirs, such as Europe, Enchilada and Titan. In this case the meteorite impact has no natural alternative in the creation of initial conditions for the origin of extraterrestrial life. This possibility was confirmed by a laboratory impact model experiment, in which the plasma torch was created under the water surface.
The concept proposed is based on physical processes occurring in nature and on experimental results of impact experiments and subsequent modelling of their analogues in laboratory conditions. Thus, the realizability and survivability of this concept should be taken as well grounded due to the simplicity and clarity of the physical processes.