Science

Life on Earth may have arisen from a quintillion lightning strikes

Life on Earth may have arisen ...
A new study suggests lightning strikes produced a vital element to kickstart life on Earth
A new study suggests lightning strikes produced a vital element to kickstart life on Earth
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A new study suggests lightning strikes produced a vital element to kickstart life on Earth
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A new study suggests lightning strikes produced a vital element to kickstart life on Earth
A sample of fulgurite, which contains phosphorus, is examined in the lab
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A sample of fulgurite, which contains phosphorus, is examined in the lab

The exact recipe for how life got started on Earth – and whether it’s appeared on other planets too – are some of the most profound mysteries of science. Now, scientists have found that lightning strikes could have contributed a key ingredient, which suggests it could be easier than we thought to spark life on other planets.

Phosphorus is one of just six crucial elements for life as we know it, and while it’s common on modern-day Earth that may not always be the case. In the distant past any phosphorus found on Earth would have been locked away inside insoluble minerals, inaccessible for any burgeoning biomolecules that may need it.

Bioavailable forms of phosphorus are mostly produced in supernova explosions, and the generally accepted story goes that it was delivered to Earth on comets and asteroids in the form of the mineral schreibersite. But that doesn’t necessarily hold up – meteorite strikes are intermittent events, and it’s believed that their frequency actually dropped during the period life emerged.

In the new study, researchers from Yale and the University of Leeds investigated an alternative way for nature to unlock phosphorus – lightning strikes. Schreibersite has also been found in glasses called fulgurites, which are created when lightning strikes the ground and flash-melts surface rock, conveniently freeing up the phosphorus.

The team modeled the conditions of early Earth and found that it would have experienced between 100 million and a billion lightning strikes per year. That of course would produce a huge amount of bioavailable phosphorus – up to 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) of phosphide and 10,000 kg (22,000 lb) of phosphite and hypophosphite each year.

The lightning strike story helps explain a few other things that meteorites don’t, too. Lightning strikes would be more constant year to year, and tend to congregate in tropical regions, where meteorites wouldn’t have that preference. Plus, lightning is likely to be common on exoplanets.

“It makes lightning strikes a significant pathway toward the origin of life,” says Benjamin Hess, lead author of the study. “This work helps us understand how life may have formed on Earth and how it could still be forming on other, Earth-like planets.”

The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Source: Yale University

7 comments
7 comments
FB36
IMHO, if life really started all by itself from random chance mixing of some chemicals etc, then, humanity would be able to replicate it, a long time ago! Creating life would be a common high school lab experiment by now!

IMHO, life is cell/body machinery controlled/commanded by free will!
(For example, that is why identical twins & even single cells have different characters/behaviors/"personalities"!)
& that is why it cannot be created artificially or by chance, because there is nothing in physics/science that could possibly explain/create free will!

(& that is why true AI is impossible also, because mind is brain machinery controlled/commanded by free will!)

(But, humanity can keep trying to create true AI/ALife & keep searching for ET, by all means!)
Signguy
All this because people REFUSE to acknowledge God as Creator! There is NO other explanation that works.
Douglas Rogers
We have only one data point for life. If we find it on Mars we will have two. This would completely change the picture.
Buzzclick
I'm digging this. For a planet to harbor a complex life like ours (lol), there are so many conditions/variables that have to be met. This makes us relatively rare among the gazillion billion planets out there. Lightning is certainly another possible necessary condition. If one considers God a cosmic life force in the universe (I do), then yes, that's how life is created. Unfortunately Signguy, it's not the "man" in the book.
Fritz
SOOOOOO funny!
We were tought the same story back in the 1960ies allready.
But - nobody can google books from that time
pdehaan
People do not understand the time. 3.5 billions of years ago we got the first prokaryote fossils. The earth origin is estimated between 4.5 and 4.6 billion of years ago. Now think: what are the possibilities of getting life on earth in about 1 billion of years. Probably several origins occurred. some successful and a lot of unsuccessful trials.
Ralf Biernacki
"Bioavailable forms of phosphorus are mostly produced in supernova explosions" Do tell, where are the non-bioavailable forms produced? :-D Actually, bioavailability is not a matter of isotopic differences---and has nothing to do with the element's supernova origins---but depends on the chemical bonding within phosphorus-containing minerals. Only some of these minerals (phosphates, specifically) are accessible to metabolism, and the research hypothesizes lightning strikes as a proposed source of energy for converting between the minerals. Imho, it's not likely, considering that this origin would result in a nearly completely random distribution of these minerals within other phosphorus-bearing minerals, which we know not to be the case.