This is not the first time that lightning has been suggested as an important part of how life on earth was made possible. Lab experiments have shown that organic matter produced by lightning may contain pre-existing compounds of amino acids (such as may join protein formation).
However, the role of lightning in this new study has been discussed separately. A Big Question Scientists have always thought that early life on Earth should use phosphorus. Although large amounts of water and carbon dioxide were found to work billions of years ago, phosphorus was covered in invisible, unconventional rocks. In other words, phosphorus was originally locked for good.
How did the organisms get access to this essential element? The conventional theory is that meteorites supplied phosphorus to the earth in the form of a mineral called scribersite – which can dissolve in water and make life forms easily available for use. The big problem with this idea is that when life began 3.5 to 4.5 billion years ago, the effects of meteors were declining in despair. The planet needed a lot of phosphorus-containing scribesite to sustain life. And meteor effects can also be devastating enough, well, kill premature lifespans (see: dinosaurs) or being distributed to steam most scribesites.
Hess and his colleagues believe they have found the solution. Srebersite is also found in glassware called fulgrites, which are formed when the earth is lit. When flowering forms it contains phosphorus from terrestrial rocks. And it is water soluble.
The authors of the new study collected Fulgurite, which was produced by illuminating the soil of Illinois in 2016, initially only to study the effects of extreme flash heating as preserved in this type of sample. They found that the fulgurite sample was made up of 0.4% scribesite.
When life first appeared on Earth billions of years ago with the help of electricity, it was just a matter of calculating how much electricity could be produced from it. There is a lot of literature on the presumption of atmospheric carbon dioxide in the ancient layers, which plays a helpful role for lightning. A well-defined armed group using the data on how the tendency of carbon dioxide to connect to lightning used that data to determine how much lightning had occurred by then.
Hess and colleagues have determined that a few billion lightning strikes could produce 110 to 11,000 kg of scribesite each year. In that amount of time, this activity should have produced enough phosphorus to encourage living animals to grow and reproduce – and much more than that would have been produced through meteorite effects.
It’s an interesting thing to understand the history of the world, but it opens up a whole new perspective to thinking about life elsewhere. “This is a process that can work on planets where meteorite effects are rare,” Hess said. Maybe, but where it will not get lost in the huge amount of water. But this limitation may not necessarily be a bad thing. At a time when astronomy was engulfing the ocean world, the study focused on places like Mars that are not submerged in world water.
Clearly, the study does not suggest that meteorite effects play any role in making phosphorus accessible in life. And Hess stressed that other mechanisms, such as hydrothermal vents, can only bypass the need for meteors or lightning.
And until the end, the earth didn’t look like it did 3.5.3 billion years ago. It is not entirely clear that there was enough rock in contact with the air – where it could be electrified and produce scribesite to provide phosphorus.
Hess continues to handle those questions from other scientists, as this research is beyond his normal work. “But I hope this will lead people to pay attention to fullgrades and further test the effectiveness of these systems,” he says. “I hope that our research will help us consider whether we will explore life in such a shallow water environment on Mars.”