What is the origin of life on Earth? Is it realistic that people can live on other planets? We have heard different versions of the origin of life on earth from different perspectives. However, one of the major mystery in planetary science is the origin of water on earth. It is said that the origin of water on earth has connections to the formation of the moon. Read on to know more interesting facts about this.
What Is The Origin Of Life On Earth?
How did various elements combine to create the initial spark, and why did it happen? This is a very complex question with serious and sensitive implications. Each religion has its version of the origin of life. Most of these theories are creationists – they involve an all-powerful deity that created humans, animals, plants, fish, birds, etc.
On the other hand, science came up with its version of the origin of life on Earth with an evolutionist theory: life started in a straightforward form – as unicellular organisms swimming in a primordial soup of nourishing organic chemical elements. They evolved over billions of years and reached the current level of complexity we see around us.
But what exactly made the first unicellular organisms appear? Was it an accident, or was there some external intervention at play? Did someone or something will it to happen to lead to the origin of life on Earth?
While religious people are firmly convinced that their version of the origin of life is the true one, scientists have always had doubts and sought answers. In a recent breakthrough, they may have found it.
Going Back to the Moment when the Moon Was Formed
To understand what the scientists discovered about the formation of the moon, we have to (virtually) travel back 4.4 billion years ago. At that time, Earth was a primitive planet, having none of the features and characteristics we know today.
As the celebrated Sci-Fi writer Isaac Asimov aptly described in the title of one of his books, Earth was just a “pebble in the sky.”
In those early days of the Solar System, there were lots and lots of pebbles in the sky.
Many of them fell into the Sun and disappeared. Others smashed against more massive planets and fragmented and became either the rings of Saturn or Jupiter’s many satellites.
One of these pebbles, about the size of Mars, smashed into the proto-Earth. As a result, a big chunk of it dislodged and became the only natural satellite of our planet – the Moon. This is what the scientists say about the formation of the moon.
However, scientists have long suspected that this impact created more than just a satellite. It may have also enriched Earth with the raw materials needed to create the spark of life along with the formation of the moon.
How Did Earth Become a Planet that Sustains Life?
At the moment of the impact, Earth was quite similar to Mars in terms of structure. It had a core and a mantle. However, the mantle did not contain many volatile chemicals, such as nitrogen, carbon, and sulfur.
Some older theories claimed that Earth was bombarded by a specific type of meteorites – carbonaceous chondrites – which added volatile elements to the mantle of proto-Earth.
The origin of water on earth is responsible due to the moon. Similarly, the origin of water on earth is also thought to have come from asteroids impacting the planet early in its history.
However, this theory does not stand when we look at Earth’s chemical composition ratio and these meteorites. Earth has approximately 40 parts carbon to one part nitrogen. Carbonaceous chondrites have only 20 parts carbon to one part nitrogen.
So, we come back to the impact of 4.4 billion years ago. Did the planet that smashed into Earth imbue it with these chemicals?
A group of scientists at the Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences at Rice University in Houston, TX, wanted to verify if this theory holds water.
Their work proved it does.
A Lab Scale Reproduction of an Ancient Planetary Impact
To prove whether Earth could have incorporated chemicals needed to sustain life after an impact with another celestial body, the scientists attempted a small-scale experiment.
The experiment aimed to prove that when the collision occurred, the two planets merged – their cores became one core and their mantles combined to form one mantle.
Thus, they built a furnace where they sent the temperature and pressure conditions that result in a planet core being formed. Next, they used graphite capsules, which contained a mix of metallic powder.
Graphite is a form of carbon, and the metal powder represented the core is made up of various elements, such as iron bound to nitrogen. Then they added different proportions of silicate powder (a mix of silicon and oxygen), representing the mantle of the planet that smashed into the earth.
How the Experiment Ran
To achieve the desired results, the team varied the key elements of the experiment:
- Proportion of sulfur
After observing the outcome of various scenarios, they came to the conclusion that one can exclude nitrogen from the core of a planet and appear in other parts only in the presence of high concentrations of sulfur.
The researchers included this finding in a computer simulation of the impact. Also, they included details on the behavior of various volatile elements and the present-day levels of carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur in the outer layers of Earth.
The computer ran over 1 billion scenarios until the scientists identified one that proved the theory.
In this scenario, 4.4 billion years ago, a Mars-sized planet containing around 25% – 30% sulfur in its core smashed into Earth.
The temperature and pressure conditions made this planet merge with Earth, enriching it with new chemical elements.
Did the Rice University Researchers Find the Truth about the Origin of Life?
It is difficult to say a definite yes to this question. It is safe to say, though, that it is a probable explanation for the way our planet acquired the necessary elements that create life.
Also, another specialist who was not involved in the Rice University experiment acknowledged that it might be true. Live Science quoted Celia Dalou, an experimental petrologist at Centre de Recherches Petrographiques et Geochimiques in France, states that the theory “is very probable. This work is a very successful result of years of research of various teams”.
Read this: What Happened In The Big Bang?
So, did Earth swallow another planet?
It looks more like it mixed its structure with that of the other planet, to the point that their essential chemical elements created bonds. And somewhere along this process, something happened – an organic compound appeared, nurturing the first forms of life.
The rest, as we all know, is history. Of course, there will still be people that will find a religious explanation in this event as well. But who knows what the truth is? The first witnesses to the creation of life were single-cell organisms, incapable of anything more complicated than feeding and dividing.
What do you think about the formation of the moon? Do we need to fund more researches into finding the origin of life? Or should we accept it as a divine gift?
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