Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Early Earth haze may have spurred life

07.11.2006
Hazy skies on early Earth could have provided a substantial source of organic material useful for emerging life on the planet, according to a new study led by the University of Colorado at Boulder.

In a study published in the Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences the week of Nov. 6, the research team measured organic particles produced from the kind of atmospheric gases thought to be present on early Earth. The laboratory experiment modeled conditions measured by the Huygens probe on Saturn's moon, Titan, last year during the NASA-European Space Agency's Cassini mission, according to Margaret Tolbert of CU-Boulder's Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, one of the study's authors.

The researchers mimicked Titan's hazy skies by exposing methane gas to an ultraviolet lamp, then added carbon dioxide gas to the mix to see if conditions that were probably present on early Earth would produce a similar organic haze. "It turns out that organic haze can form over a wide range of methane and carbon dioxide concentrations," said Tolbert. "This means that hazy conditions could have been present for many millions or even a billion years on Earth while life was evolving."

According to co-author Melissa Trainer of CU-Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, the study was the first to measure the chemical properties of aerosols by irradiating methane and carbon dioxide with ultraviolet light. "We found that you can make a lot of organic material virtually out of thin air," said Trainer, who completed her doctoral degree in CU-Boulder's chemistry and biochemistry department at CU in May 2006 under Tolbert.

Scientists believe the atmospheric chemistry of Titan might hold valuable clues to understanding the climate on Earth when life was just forming, said Trainer. Titan is an unusual solar system moon in that it has an atmosphere -- in this case one thick with organic aerosol particles that form through photochemical processes when sunlight reacts with methane gas, she said.

According to the study, a similar haze hanging over Earth early in its history could have supplied more than 100 million tons of organic material to the planet's surface each year. "As these particles settled out of the skies, they would have provided a global source of food for living organisms," said Trainer.

Previous efforts to understand early life on Earth have focused on extreme environments like hydrothermal vents, where energy and nutrients are plentiful, said Tolbert. The new study shows that such a high-energy food source could have been produced globally early in Earth's history, possibly expanding the habitable domain for early life, she said.

In addition to serving as a source of organic material, a haze layer over Earth could have shielded living organisms from harmful UV rays and helped to regulate Earth's early climate, according to the study. The haze may have contributed to the geologic record on Earth by depositing organic carbon into some of the planet's most ancient rocks, said Alexander Pavlov, a study co-author and former LASP researcher now at the University of Arizona. Organic carbon is believed by scientists to be of biological origin.

Other authors on the study included LASP's Owen Toon, H. Langley Dewitt and Jose Jimenez of CIRES, and Christopher McKay of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

"It's exciting to see that the early Earth experiments produced so much organic matter," said Carl Pilcher, director of NASA's Astrobiology Institute, headquartered at NASA Ames. "An organic haze produced this way on early Earth could have contributed to the formation and sustenance of life."

Margaret Tolbert | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.colorado.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht First chip-scale broadband optical system that can sense molecules in the mid-IR
24.05.2018 | Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science

nachricht Nuclear physicists leap into quantum computing with first simulations of atomic nucleus
24.05.2018 | DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Molecular switch will facilitate the development of pioneering electro-optical devices

A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.

The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...

Im Focus: LZH showcases laser material processing of tomorrow at the LASYS 2018

At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.

At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...

Im Focus: Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation

There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?

At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

Im Focus: Dozens of binaries from Milky Way's globular clusters could be detectable by LISA

Next-generation gravitational wave detector in space will complement LIGO on Earth

The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

When corals eat plastics

24.05.2018 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

Surgery involving ultrasound energy found to treat high blood pressure

24.05.2018 | Medical Engineering

First chip-scale broadband optical system that can sense molecules in the mid-IR

24.05.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>