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Ancient volcanic lightning may have contributed to the emergence of life on Earth

Dmytro IvancheskulLife
Ancient volcanic lightning may have contributed to the emergence of life on Earth

Volcanic lightning could have created nutrients on the oldest Earth that made life on the planet possible. We are talking about nitrates in the first place.

This was stated by Erwan Martin, a volcanologist from the Sorbonne University in Paris. According to Science News, he is convinced that gigantic volcanic eruptions in ancient times emitted millions of metric tons of nitrates caused by volcanic lightning.

Nitrogen is an essential ingredient in biological molecules such as proteins and DNA. It makes up about 78% of the atmosphere. But the nitrogen molecules in the air are made up of two tightly bound atoms that do not fission on their own. But it is when these atoms split that they are able to react with other elements and create forms of nitrogen that are useful for life, such as nitrates.

Since in ancient times, there were no microbes capable of breaking down nitrogen molecules and transferring fixed nitrogen to plants and fungi, a non-biological process must have occurred.

As Martin is convinced, the obvious candidate for this role is lightning, whose discharges are able to break nitrogen atoms, which subsequently bind to oxygen, forming nitrogen oxides and, finally, nitrates.

In this case, conventional lightning is not suitable, because they are not so powerful and intense. At the same time, the lightning produced by volcanic eruptions has an amazing intensity. For example, as noted by scientists, in one day of the eruption of the volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haapai in Indonesia in 2022, there were about 400,000 discharges.

But even this large number of discharges creates relatively few nitrates. Significantly more can be created by rare, huge eruptions that occur only once every 100,000 years.

Martin explained that the very idea that such events can produce and deposit lots of nitrates is not new. But his team did something no one had done before. They investigated the nitrogen content of volcanic sediments that result from such powerful eruptions.

The samples were taken from sediments in Turkey and Peru associated with 10 explosive eruptions between 20 million and 1 million years ago.

The nitrate the researchers found confirmed their speculation that it was formed in the air. Based on their samples, the researchers estimated that each eruption deposited an average of about 60 million tons of nitrate.

Although life originated about 3.7 billion years ago, long before the eruptions Martin and his colleagues studied, the early years of Earth's existence were full of such extreme volcanism. So this theory has a full right to exist.

Previously OBOZREVATEL also told that another theory of scientists could originate life on Earth thanks to the Sun.

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