About 4 to 3.8 billion years ago a period of intense comet and asteroid bombardment is thought to have peppered all the planets including the Earth. Many of the numerous craters found on the Moon and other bodies in the Solar System record this event.
One theory holds that a gravitational surge caused by the orbital interaction of Jupiter and Saturn sent Neptune careening into the ring of comets in the outer Solar System. The disrupted comets were sent in all directions and collided with the planets. These water-rich objects may have provided much of the water in the Earth's oceans.
Image: Artwork depicting the Late Heavy Bombardment (credit: Chris Butler/SPL)
The early Solar System was a shooting gallery.
Professor Brian Cox explains how the orbiting gas giants may have caused an enormous asteroid and comet bombardment in the inner Solar System 3.6 billion years ago. Earth and the other planets were peppered by asteroids and comets.
Our planet develops its inner heat.
Dr Iain Stewart explains how the Earth developed its inner heat during a time known as the Hadean eon, about 4.5 billion years ago.
Volcanoes and comets bring water to the Earth.
Dr Iain Stewart explains the theory that steam from volcanoes and water from comets filled the Earth's oceans.
The Late Heavy Bombardment (abbreviated LHB and also known as the lunar cataclysm) is an event thought to have occurred approximately 4.1 to 3.8 billion years (Ga) ago, corresponding to the Neohadean and Eoarchean eras on Earth. During this interval, a disproportionately large number of asteroids are theorized to have collided with the early terrestrial planets in the inner Solar System, including Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. The LHB happened after the Earth and other rocky planets had formed and accreted most of their mass, but still quite early in Earth's history.
Evidence for the LHB derives from lunar samples brought back by the Apollo astronauts. Isotopic dating of Moon rocks implies that most impact melts occurred in a rather narrow interval of time. Several hypotheses are now offered to explain the apparent spike in the flux of impactors (i.e. asteroids and comets) in the inner Solar System, but no consensus yet exists. The Nice model is popular among planetary scientists; it postulates that the giant planets underwent orbital migration and scattered objects in the asteroid and/or Kuiper belts into eccentric orbits, and thereby into the path of the terrestrial planets. Other researchers argue that the lunar sample data do not require a cataclysmic cratering event near 3.9 Ga, and that the apparent clustering of impact melt ages near this time is an artifact of sampling materials retrieved from a single large impact basin. They also note that the rate of impact cratering could be significantly different between the outer and inner zones of the Solar System.