Solar Eruptions Led To the Genesis of Life On Earth

Category Science

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A new international research study has provided evidence that the Sun's eruptions could have been a crucial element in kickstarting the precursors of life on Earth. Early-Earth's atmosphere was mixed with a 0.5-2.5% methane composition, subject to high-energy particles resulting from the Sun's superflares. This allowed for the synthesis of complex organic molecules and amino acids, essential for life.

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Long before the genesis of life, Earth was a ball of rock. After a series of meteor showers, volcanic eruptions, and other supernatural events, the earliest forms of life, which we now know to be microscopic organisms, came about. Historical evidence and fossils, which left their imprints on rocks and other formations, tell us that life began at least 3.5 billion years ago.

However, the environmental conditions which led to the complexity of the Earth’s chemistry are poorly known.

The Hadean stage is the earliest part of Earth's formation, beginning 4.6 to 4 billion years ago

A new study published in the peer-reviewed journal Life says that the first building blocks of life may have emerged from an active young Sun’s eruptions. The international team of researchers found that high-energy particles emerging from our Sun’s superflares helped in creating organic molecules – amino acids and carboxylic acids, the basic building blocks of proteins and organic life – in the Earth's atmosphere.

The Earth's atmosphere, during the Hadean stage, contained 0.5-2.5% methane

Early research, from the 1800s to the late 20th century, focused on lightning as the source of the formation of complex chemicals that resulted in prebiotic molecules. But this research says that energetic particles from the Sun are a more efficient energy source than lightning.

"That was a big revelation," said Vladimir Airapetian, a stellar astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and co-author of the paper. "From the basic components of early Earth’s atmosphere, you can synthesize these complex organic molecules."Airapetian co-authored another study in 2016 which suggested that during the Hadean stage, which is the Earth’s early formation period, the Sun was about 30% dimmer. But the intensity of the Sun's superflares was much greater. Superflares are powerful eruptions that today we only see once every 100 years, but when the Earth was first formed, they would have erupted once every 3-10 days. The 2016 study suggested that the Sun’s superflares would have regularly collided with the Earth’s atmosphere, kickstarting chemical reactions.

The study suggests that solar particles from our young Sun may have been present and highly intense due to its close proximity to the Earth

Airapetian and a team of international scientists created a mixture of gasses, namely carbon dioxide, molecular nitrogen, water, and a variable amount of methane, matching early Earth’s atmosphere. In order to answer the question of ‘Was it lightning or solar eruptions?’ they created two simulations. They first shot the gas mixtures with protons, which simulated solar particles. In the other simulation, they shot the gas mixtures with spark discharges, which simulated lightning.

Galactic cosmic rays and lightning are also thought to have a part in the prebiotic chemistry of early Earth

They found that the gas mixtures shot by protons, containing 0.5% methane, produced a greater amount of amino acids in comparison to the spark discharges, which required at least 15% methane concentration before any amount of amino acids could be found.

The study concluded that a younger Sun could have played a significant role in kickstarting the precursors of life.

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