Asteroid break-ups and meteorite delivery to Earth the past 500 million years

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The meteoritic material falling on Earth is believed to derive from large break-up or cratering events in the asteroid belt. The flux of extraterrestrial material would then vary in accordance with the timing of such asteroid family-forming events. In order to validate this, we investigated marine sediments representing 15 time-windows in the Phanerozoic for content of micrometeoritic relict chrome-spinel grains (>32 μm). We compare these data with the timing of the 15 largest break-up events involving chrome-spinel–bearing asteroids (S- and V-types). Unexpectedly, our Phanerozoic time windows show a stable flux dominated by ordinary chondrites similar to today’s flux. Only in the mid-Ordovician, in connection with the breakup of the L-chondrite parent body, do we observe an anomalous micrometeorite regime with a two to three orders-of-magnitude increase in the flux of L-chondritic chrome-spinel grains to Earth. This corresponds to a one order-of-magnitude excess in the number of impact craters in the mid-Ordovician following the L-chondrite break-up, the only resolvable peak in Phanerozoic cratering rates indicative of an asteroid shower. We argue that meteorites and small (<1-km-sized) asteroids impacting Earth mainly sample a very small region of orbital space in the asteroid belt. This selectiveness has been remarkably stable over the past 500 Ma.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2020977118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Jun 15

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology
  • Geology


  • Asteroid break-up
  • Chrome spinel
  • Meteorite delivery
  • Phanerozoic history


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