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Nuclear Physics

Lund University

ASTROGEOBIOSPHERE

Our research is cross-disciplinary, involving nuclear physicists, astronomers, geologists and biologists. Astrobiology has been a dynamic, research-frontier field for the past decade. There is a great interest, for example, in the potential for primitive life on Mars, and there is an agenda trying to find traces of biologically mediated gases in the atmospheres in any of the 800 exoplanets discovered. Our group is specializing in a field that we call Astrogeobiology, in order to emphasize that information about the conditions of life in the universe is deduced primarily from Earth's geological record. There has long been a dichotomy between astronomers that look up at the sky and geologists that look down on Earth. In this new approach, events in the skies are related to events on Earth during the past 3.5 Gyr, by looking down deep into Earth's sedimentary record. The field of Astrogeobiology gained momentum with the discovery in 1978 by physics Nobel laureate Luis Alvarez and his son, geologist Walter Alvarez, that the dinosaurs and 75% of Earth's fauna became extinct 66 Myr ago due to the impact of a major comet or asteroid on Earth. A conceptual breakthrough in Astrogeobiology came with the book Rare Earth by Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee (2004). They show that evolution of life on Earth or any planet is dependent on many other factors than distance to its star and temperature. By studying the geological record and evolution of life on the only planet where this is possible, the Earth, we can gain more general insights about the conditions for life in the universe.

Our research is primarily based on searches for extraterrestrial material in Earth’s ancient sedimentary record. We search for micrometeorites (<2 mm), meteorites (1-20 cm) and traces of large kilometre-sized bodies that have hit Earth.  By this we can tie the history of life on Earth to events and changes in the larger astronomical realm. We also search for interstellar material in sediments from the deep-sea of today’s Earth. The different subprojects are described at accompanying pages.

Link to recent article about our research in NASA-sponsored journal Astrobiology Magazine

 

 

Mass extinctions of animal species, ice ages and impact craters during the past 730 Myr. For details, see: B. Schmitz "Extraterrestrial spinels and the astronomical perspective on Earth's geological record and evolution of life. Chemie der Erde 73:117-145 (2013)
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