How exactly living beings arose on Earth remains a mystery. Now, a new experiment has shown that explosions of solar particles could kick start the process, creating some of the basic components of life.
time in the sun
Even before the first microbe appeared, it was believed that amino acids were formed in one of the primordial oozes of the early Earth. Previously, it was believed that lightning could accelerate the formation of amino acids. However, Kensei Kobayashi of Yokohama National University in Japan, along with astrophysicist Vladimir Airapetian of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and a team of researchers from both institutes, have come up with another possibility: superflares from the young Sun likely contributed to the origin of life.
“[Galactic cosmic rays] another [solar energetic particle] Young Sun events represent the most efficient sources of energy for the prebiotic formation of biologically important organic compounds,” the researchers said in a study recently published in Life.
There is no exact answer to the question of when life began, although scientists believe that the first organism on Earth appeared somewhere during the Hadean eon (between 4 and 4.6 billion years ago). In 1953, Stanley Miller and Harold Urey of the University of Chicago conducted experiments that showed that lightning a collision with the Earth during that era set the stage for chemical reactions that led to the formation of amino acids. At the time, it was thought that the early Earth’s atmosphere consisted mainly of water, hydrogen, ammonia, and methane. Miller and Urey simulated a lightning strike on gas molecules in the laboratory and obtained amino acids.
Problems with the lightning hypothesis began to arise when later research showed that Gadea’s atmosphere did not contain as much methane or ammonia as Miller and Urey had assumed. Instead, there was much more carbon dioxide and molecular nitrogen. These gases must be broken down in order for the chemical reactions to occur to form amino acids, and lightning cannot destroy them so easily. This would mean much fewer amino acids.
High Energy Chemistry
By studying observations of young distant stars as part of NASA’s Kepler mission, the researchers found out how the nascent sun most likely behaved: it threw mass tantrums. They blew up the Earth with enough energy to destroy the atmospheric gases that existed at the time.
The Hadean Sun was young and temperamental. It will explode with superflares – even X-class solar flare nothing about these phenomena. Now superflares occur once every hundred years or so, but then they probably happened at least once a week. Although on earlier research Airapetian suggests that our star was 30 percent dimmer during the Hadean eon, and the frequent superflares were still powerful enough to trigger chemical reactions.
Kobayashi then studied the consequences galactic cosmic raysor radiation from outside the solar system, could have impacted the Earth’s atmosphere billions of years ago.
Kobayashi reached out to Hayrapetyan after reading the study. Together they used particle accelerators at the University of Yokohama to investigate how protons from solar superflares could interact with Earth’s atmosphere. Their team simulated both solar radiation and lightning bombarding gas particles in a mixture that mirrored the early Earth’s atmosphere. These results were also compared with previous work by Kobayashi, which used particle accelerators to study reactions driven by galactic cosmic radiation.
The researchers found that the protons they fired into these gases, which were as close as possible to the plasma clumps that would have erupted from the young Sun during a superflare, were more efficient at creating amino acids and one of their components, carboxylic acids, than lightning or galactic cosmic rays.
“We have experimentally shown for the first time that the rate of production of amino acids and carboxylic acids … due to proton irradiation can significantly exceed the rate of production of these molecules through [galactic cosmic rays] another [lightning]”, the researchers said.
Hadean Earth was also colder because the Sun was dimmer, meaning that lightning flashes, which Miller and Urey believed were catalysts for amino acids, were less frequent than they are today. The researchers also believe that high-energy solar particles may have had some role in the formation of amino acids on Earth. Mars. before that lost most of its atmosphere, ancient Mars was warmer, weatherier and had a denser atmosphere. Perhaps it was at least a temporary refuge for life.
What turned chemicals into living organisms still eludes us. The sun may not have infected the Earth with life, but life somehow became what it is thanks to the biomolecules it helped create.
Life, 2023. DOI: 10.3390/life13051103
Elizabeth Rein is a creature that writes. Her work has appeared on SYFY WIRE, Space.com, Live Science, Grunge, Den of Geek and Forbidden Futures. When she’s not writing, she’s either shape-shifting or painting or cosplaying a character no one has ever heard of. Follow her on Twitter @quothravenrayne.