Standing on Earth nearly 4 billion years ago was an incredibly hot, hopelessly lonely, and very short experience – with no oxygen. Now, new research indicates that there could have been fewer Lightning About what it is in the modern era, too.
This could make a difference to any of the hypotheses that lightning might have been involved in sparking early life on our planet. If lightning strikes were less common on early Earth than previously thought, that affects those calculations.
To dig deeper, the researchers examined how downpours — the sparks that initiate lightning — could have formed in an atmosphere dense in carbon dioxide and molecular nitrogen, as the primordial Earth’s atmosphere is now believed to have.
“Essentially, in an atmosphere rich in nitrogen and carbon, you need stronger electric fields to initiate the discharge,” Physicist Christoph Cohen says: from the Technical University of Denmark.
The chain of interactions of accelerating and colliding electrons is known as electronic meltdowns Essential to flux discharges, and how the behavior of electrons changes depending on atmospheric conditions, is where this newly discovered discrepancy comes in.
To complicate matters, we’re not quite sure what the early Earth’s atmosphere looked like. Here, scientists used the hypothesis of carbon dioxide and nitrogen first Introduced in the 90’s by geologist James Casting.
An older suggestion by Stanley Miller and Harold Urey, It was published in the fifties of the last centuryindicates that methane and ammonia were already prevalent in the atmosphere during the first billions of Earth’s life.
Miller and Urey first introduced the idea of lightning to form the building blocks of life on Earth, through experiments in gas-filled flasks, but in recent years the thinking about the composition of the atmosphere at that time has begun to shift.
“Our simulations show that discharges in the Miller-Urey mixture begin in lower fields compared to the Casting mixture and partly on modern Earth, indicating that discharges into the atmosphere of ancient Earth may have been more difficult than previously thought,” the researchers write. In the new paper.
What all this means is that the process of producing and building life’s key prebiotic molecules, through lightning strikes, would have taken much longer if modern ideas about early Earth’s atmosphere were correct.
The researchers do not specify how long precisely; They have only modeled one of the first stages in the lightning formation process, and there are still many unknowns. However, they say the differences “can make a big difference” in how frequently lightning strikes.
There is a lot of work to be done here, such as extending the research to the entire lightning strike process and adding more models of atmospheric chemistry. In the end, we’re still looking for answers to our biggest questions.
“If lightning discharges are responsible for the production of prebiotic molecules, it is important to get a very good theoretical understanding of what happened,” Cohen says.
“The big question still is, where do all these prebiotic molecules come from?”
The search was published in Geophysical Research Letters.