Illustrating Bombardment of Early Earth by Asteroids

July 30, 2014

Image of an impact-scarred Hadean Earth. This artistic reconstruction illustrates land masses, mountain ranges, and seas shaped by impact cratering events, some of which significantly heated portions of the surface.
Credit: Simone Marchi.

A new study released today in Nature describes the effects of asteroid bombardment on the early Earth — a period geologists call the Hadean. The research shows that the surface of Earth was thoroughly reprocessed by the bombardment, destroying most of the primordial crust and leaving only a few rare mineral relics. The study’s results were based on an ancient impact rate that was calibrated with studies of the Earth’s Moon, where the geologic record of the events is better preserved.

The lead author of the international study, Simone Marchi of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, created two animated GIF movies to illustrate the Hadean period of asteroid bombardment. The Center for Lunar Science and Exploration, a division of the Lunar and Planetary Institute, is posting those movies for students, faculty, and the general public to utilize at Links to other illustrations of the early Earth are also available on that education resource page.

This work is part of a systematic study of the early Earth and the impact events that may have affected the origin and early evolution of life on Earth being led by David A. Kring of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas, one of the co-authors of the new study, and principal investigator of the Center for Lunar Science and Exploration. “The detailed modeling that Dr. Marchi and the team have done greatly clarifies the events that shaped the Hadean Earth,” he said. “We are glad we can distribute classroom resources that illustrate the consequences of impact cratering, which is one of the most important planetary processes in the solar system.” A suite of classroom resources related to the evolution of the Earth-Moon system and the asteroids that affected it is available at

The new results were produced by Marchi and William Bottke (Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado), Linda Elkins-Tanton (Carnegie Institution for Science, Washington, DC), Michael Bierhaus and Kai Wuennemann (Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin, Germany), Alessandro Morbidelli (Observatoir de la Côte d’Azur, Nice, France), and Kring. The title of their work is Widespread Mixing and Burial of Earth’s Hadean Crust by Asteroid Impacts.

For more details about the new research, visit

For more details about the Impact-Origin of Life Hypothesis, visit



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Last updated July 30, 2014