Home Sciences Strange rocks and seawater may have made Earth habitable

Strange rocks and seawater may have made Earth habitable

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A new theory around Earth’s first 500 million years indicates that our planet went from being a ball of fire to a sphere teeming with life thanks to “strange” rocks that interacted with seawater in the right way, to drive the existence of biological matter.

Researchers from Yale University and the California Institute of Technology, in the United States, have developed a suggestive theory that could explain not only how the earth became habitable, but also why life arose on our planet. Scientists believe that during the first 500 million years of the Earth there were rocks with characteristics different from those of today, which favored the elimination of excessive atmospheric carbon and interacted with seawater to generate hydrogen, vital for the emergence of biomolecules.

Early Earth Changes

the so-called hadean eon it begins at the time the Earth was formed, about 4,567 million years ago, and ends 4,000 million years ago, when the Archean eon begins. It is perhaps the most enigmatic period of our planet, because during those 567 million years the Earth went from being an unviable planet for life to becoming the home of multiple and varied species, including human beings.

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According to a press release, American researchers maintain that the primitive Earth was covered with rocks that currently do not exist on the planet. These rocks would have been enriched with a mineral called pyroxene, and were probably dark greenish in color. Because they possessed large concentrations of magnesium, at a level rarely seen in present-day rocks, they captured a significant part of the enormous accumulations of magnesium. carbon dioxide that existed at that time in the Earth’s atmosphere.

It is known that the Earth began its history with an atmosphere very similar to that of the planet Venus, this means that its skies were full of carbon dioxide, with more than 100,000 times the current level of atmospheric carbon. In addition, its surface temperature exceeded 200 degrees Celsius. Under those conditions, life would not have been able to form, much less maintain itself over time.

a new planet

However, the “strange” rocks mentioned in the new study, published recently in the journal Nature, would not only have “cleaned” excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but would also have interacted with seawater to generate a large flow of hydrogen, a transcendental gas for life. The effect would be similar to that observed in a modern deep-sea thermal vent, called Ciudad Perdida hydrothermal field, located in the Atlantic Ocean: this environment has become a privileged place to investigate the origin of life on Earth.

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In short, all these conditions indicated by the scientists would have made it possible for the rate of atmospheric carbon uptake to be 10 times faster than would be possible with the rocks that dominate the Earth’s mantle today. That would explain why the characteristics of the planet would have changed radically in just 160 million years.

In this way, the research led by Yoshinori Miyazaki manages to explain how a hydrated mantle with chemical heterogeneity, created from the solidification of the previous magma ocean, was the key to the formation on Earth of the oceans we know today, the beginning of plate tectonics and the rapid removal of greenhouse gases. All of these points are essential to creating a habitable environment on the terrestrial planets.

Reference

A wet heterogeneous mantle creates a habitable world in the Hadean. Yoshinori Miyazaki et al. Nature (2022). DOI:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-04371-9

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