Impact-shocked rocks – insights into archean and extraterrestrial microbial habitats (and sites for prebiotic chemistry?)
Impact-shocked gneiss shocked to greater than 10 GPa in the Haughton impact structure in the Canadian High Arctic has an approximately 25-times greater pore surface area than unshocked rocks. These pore spaces provide microhabitats for a diversity of heterotrophic microorganisms and in the near-surface environment of the rocks, where light levels are sufficient, cyanobacteria. Shocked rocks provide a moisture retaining, UV protected microenvironment. During the Archean, when impact fluxes were more than two orders of magnitude higher than today, the shocked-rock habitat was one of the most common terrestrial habitats and might have provided a UV-shielded refugium for primitive life. These potential habitats are in high abundance on Mars where impact crater habitats could have existed over geologic time periods of billions of years, suggesting that impact-shocked rocks are important sites to search for biomolecules in extraterrestrial life detection strategies. In addition to being favourable sites for life, during the prebiotic period of planetary history impact-shocked rocks might have acted as a site for the concentration of reactants for prebiotic syntheses.