Exchange of meteorites (and life?) between stellar systems

Astrobiology. 2003 Spring;3(1):207-15. doi: 10.1089/153110703321632525.


It is now generally accepted that meteorite-size fragments of rock can be ejected from planetary bodies. Numerical studies of the orbital evolution of such planetary ejecta are consistent with the observed cosmic ray exposure times and infall rates of these meteorites. All of these numerical studies agree that a substantial fraction (up to one-third) of the ejecta from any planet in our Solar System is eventually thrown out of the Solar System during encounters with the giant planets Jupiter and Saturn. In this paper I examine the probability that such interstellar meteorites might be captured into a distant solar system and fall onto a terrestrial planet in that system within a given interval of time. The overall conclusion is that it is very unlikely that even a single meteorite originating on a terrestrial planet in our solar system has fallen onto a terrestrial planet in another stellar system, over the entire period of our Solar System's existence. Although viable microorganisms may be readily exchanged between planets in our solar system through the interplanetary transfer of meteoritic material, it seems that the origin of life on Earth must be sought within the confines of the Solar System, not abroad in the galaxy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Evolution, Planetary*
  • Extraterrestrial Environment*
  • Jupiter
  • Life*
  • Meteoroids*
  • Probability
  • Saturn
  • Solar System*