The origin of life on Earth may have been a lightning strike

The origin of life on Earth may have been a lightning strike

Researchers at Yale University have reported that it could have been millions of lightning strikes that gave birth to life on the ancient Earth.

Carbon (C), hydrogen (H), oxygen (O), nitrogen (N), and sulfur (S) make up the body of all living things, from microorganisms to humans, as essential elements for maintaining life activities.

Of these, phosphorus constitutes the molecules that form the basic cell structure and cell membrane, and is also required to form the phosphate skeleton of DNA and RNA, but life did not yet exist in the “early earth.”

So, most of the phosphorus was trapped in the minerals and couldn’t dissolve or react, so we couldn’t make the molecules needed for life, “said one of the researchers, Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of Yale. Benjamin Hess, a graduate student of the department, said.

A powerful theory that life was born on the earth is often the story that a meteorite containing necessary elements fell on the earth. In fact, it is known that some meteorites contain the water-soluble phosphate mineral “Schreibersite”.

However, it is thought that the impact of meteorites on the earth had already decreased 3.5 to 4.5 billion years before the birth of life, and in that respect, was it really fortunate that meteorites containing phosphorus fell on the earth? I do not know.

From a different point of view, it is known that Schreibersite exists not only in meteorites but also in rocks called fulgurite. Fulgurite is a natural glass tube formed when a lightning strike occurs on silica sand, and it is known that it contains soluble phosphorus released from rocks on the surface of the earth.

Lightning strikes do not fall as rarely as meteorites, but occur during weather and volcanic eruptions. It may be a very important phenomenon, “Hess said. Lightning is also associated with the production of nitrogen oxides, which are also related to the origin of life.

Researchers such as Hess decided to investigate what the incidence of lightning on the Earth was in the early days from existing research, and as a result of scrutiny, about 560 million lightning strikes a year on the present Earth.

It was estimated that 1 to 5 billion lightning strikes occurred annually on Earth at that time, of which 100 to 1 billion lightning strikes occurred.

“The results of this study could be a source of lightning for the phosphorus needed for the birth of life on a planet with a lot of lightning,” Hess said.

If the research is correct, focusing on extraterrestrial planets with a large number of lightning strikes or planets that may have been in such a situation in the past will have a significant impact on the search and discovery of extraterrestrial life.

Bruce Dorminey
I'm a science journalist and host of Cosmic Controversy (brucedorminey.podbean.com) as well as author of "Distant Wanderers: the Search for Planets Beyond the Solar System."  I primarily cover aerospace and astronomy. I’m a former Hong Kong bureau chief for Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine and former Paris-based technology correspondent for the Financial Times newspaper who has reported from six continents. A 1998 winner in the Royal Aeronautical Society's Aerospace Journalist of the Year Awards (AJOYA), I’ve interviewed Nobel Prize winners and written about everything from potato blight to dark energy. Previously, I was a film and arts correspondent in New York and Europe, primarily for newspaper outlets like the International Herald Tribune, the Boston Globe and Canada's Globe & Mail. Recently, I've contributed to Scientific American.com, Nature News, Physics World, and Yale Environment 360.com. I'm a current contributor to Astronomy and Sky & Telescope and a correspondent for Renewable Energy World. Twitter @bdorminey