Earth and Moon impact flux increased at the end of the Paleozoic

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Science  18 Jan 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6424, pp. 253-257
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar4058

Impact rates on Earth and the Moon

The rate at which impacts produce craters on the Moon is used to calibrate ages in planetary science. Earth should also have received similar numbers of impacts, but many craters have been hidden by erosion, ice sheets, and so on. Mazrouei et al. used infrared images of the Moon to estimate the ages of young lunar craters (see the Perspective by Koeberl). They found that the impact rate increased within the past ∼500 million years, a conclusion strengthened by an analysis of known impact craters on Earth. Crater size distributions are the same on Earth and the Moon over this period, implying that terrestrial erosion affects all craters equally, regardless of their size.

Science, this issue p. 253; see also p. 224


The terrestrial impact crater record is commonly assumed to be biased, with erosion thought to eliminate older craters, even on stable terrains. Given that the same projectile population strikes Earth and the Moon, terrestrial selection effects can be quantified by using a method to date lunar craters with diameters greater than 10 kilometers and younger than 1 billion years. We found that the impact rate increased by a factor of 2.6 about 290 million years ago. The terrestrial crater record shows similar results, suggesting that the deficit of large terrestrial craters between 300 million and 650 million years ago relative to more recent times stems from a lower impact flux, not preservation bias. The almost complete absence of terrestrial craters older than 650 million years may indicate a massive global-scale erosion event near that time.

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