Lithospanspermia in Star-Forming clusters

Fred C. Adams, David N. Spergel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


This paper considers the lithopanspermia hypothesis in star-forming groups and clusters, where the chances of biological material spreading from one solar system to another is greatly enhanced (relative to action in the field) because of the close proximity of the systems and lower relative velocities. These effects more than compensate for the reduced time spent in such crowded environments. This paper uses ∼300,000 Monte Carlo scattering calculations to determine the cross sections (σcap) for rocks to be captured by binaries and provides fitting formulae for other applications. We assess the odds of transfer as a function of the ejection speed veject and number N* of members in the birth aggregate. The odds of any given ejected meteoroid being recaptured by another solar system are relatively low, about 1:103-106 over the expected range of ejection speeds and cluster sizes. Because the number of ejected rocks (with mass m > 10 kg) per system can be large, NR ∼ 1016, virtually all solar systems are likely to share rocky ejecta with all of the other solar systems in their birth cluster. The number of ejected rocks that carry living microorganisms is much smaller and less certain, but we estimate that NB ∼ 107 rocks can be ejected from a biologically active solar system. For typical birth environments, the capture of life-bearing rocks is expected to occur Nbio ≈ 10-16,000 times (per cluster), depending on the ejection speeds. Only a small fraction (fimp ∼ 10-4) of the captured rocks impact the surfaces of terrestrial planets, so that Nlps ≈ 10-3-1.6 lithopanspermia events are expected per cluster (under favorable conditions). Finally, we discuss the question of internal versus external seeding of clusters and the possibility of Earth seeding young clusters over its biologically active lifetime.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)497-514
Number of pages18
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Interstellar meteorites
  • Origin of life
  • Panspermia


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