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Microbe traces found at meteorite crash site

Scientists studying an ancient meteorite crash site in the Canadian Arctic have detected traces of microbes that point to the key role played by impact craters in the evolution of life on Earth and could help determine whether life once existed on Mars.

The discovery -- hailed by an 11-member team of researchers from Canada, Britain, the U.S. and Sweden as a scientific first -- was made at Devon Island's famous Haughton Crater, a uniquely dry and desolate geological gem probed frequently by experts from NASA because of its Mars-like features. "Meteorite impact craters have been proposed as possible sites to find microbial life on Mars, as they are a focus for heat and water circulation," the research team, including University of Western Ontario geologist Gordon Osinski, state in a summary of their findings.

The researchers examined meteorite-shocked rocks from numerous sites throughout the 24-kilometre-wide crater and found telltale traces of sulphur left behind by heat-loving, "thermophilic" bacteria that moved into the crash site following the impact. "Evidence of widespread microbial activity" in the Canadian crater, the team says, has "shown for the first time that a crater was pervasively colonized by microbes, and that colonization of over 20 cubic kilometres of impact rock was rapid, within 10,000 years after impact, while the rock was still warm."

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