Although there is evidence for periodic geological perturbations driven by regular or semi-regular extra-terrestrial bombardment, the production of Earth’s continental crust is generally regarded as a function of planetary differentiation driven by internal processes. We report time series analysis of the Hf isotopic composition of zircon grains from the North Atlantic and Pilbara cratons, the archetypes of Archean plate tectonic and non-plate tectonic settings, respectively. An ~170–200 m.y. frequency is recognized in both cratons that matches the transit of the solar system through the galactic spiral arms, where the density of stars is high. An increase in stellar density is consistent with an enhanced rate of Earth bombardment by comets, the larger of which would have initiated crustal nuclei production via impact-driven decompression melting of the mantle. Hence, the production and preservation of continental crust on the early Earth may have been fundamentally influenced by exogenous processes. A test of this model using oxygen isotopes in zircon from the Pilbara craton reveals correlations between crust with anomalously light isotopic signatures and exit from the Perseus spiral arm and entry into the Norma spiral arm, the latter of which matches the known age of terrestrial spherule beds. Our data support bolide impact, which promoted the growth of crustal nuclei, on solar system transit into and out of the galactic spiral arms.

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