The Late Heavy Bombardment was a period of time, generally put at about 4.1 billion to 3.8 billion years ago, when the inner planets of the Solar System were subjected to a high-frequency barrage of asteroids. This left its mark on the Moon, but on Earth the craters quickly disappeared owing to tectonic processes and erosion. In the first of two papers on the bombardment, Brandon Johnson and Jay Melosh determine the properties of the asteroids by looking at spherule beds: layers of debris ejected during the impacts. The thickness of spherule layers is expected to vary according to the size of the impactor and the speed at which it hit Earth. This historical record of impacts indicates that the number of projectiles colliding with Earth was substantially higher 3.5 billion years ago than it is today, with a gradual decline in the number of strikes after the Late Heavy Bombardment. Bottke et al. modelled the evolution of an asteroid belt that extended farther towards Mars than the present one. They find that most of the impactors traced by the spherule beds probably originated in this 'E-belt', which was disrupted during migrations of some of the giant planets.
- Impact spherules as a record of an ancient heavy bombardment of Earth (Letter p75, doi: 10.1038/nature10982)
- An Archaean heavy bombardment from a destabilized extension of the asteroid belt (Letter p78, doi: 10.1038/nature10967)
- (News & Views p44, doi: 10.1038/nature11190)
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