Shocking! Solar storms played a vital role in the origin of life on Earth, says NASA study | Tech News

Shocking! Solar storms played a vital role in the origin of life on Earth, says NASA study

A new study by NASA scientists claims that solar storm strikes could have been responsible for kick-starting life on Earth.

| Updated on: May 09 2023, 18:07 IST
Solar Storm
Life on Earth could have been formed as a result of dangerous solar storm strikes, a NASA study highlights. (Pixabay)

Solar storms have always been looked at as a destructive force that is capable of damaging our current technology infrastructure. And this is not without reason. Just last year, a powerful solar storm destroyed more than 40 Starlink satellites. And if you go a little further in the past, in 1859, the Carrington event witnessed telegraph services being disrupted and many operators suffering shocks from the wires just because of a powerful solar storm. As such, it is difficult to imagine that without such a monstrous force from the Sun, life on Earth may never have originated. But that is exactly what a study by a group of NASA scientists is claiming.

This study has been published in the life journal and it goes over the role of highly energized solar particles in the formation of amino acids and carboxylic acids in the early days of Earth. “A series of chemical experiments show how solar particles, colliding with gases in Earth's early atmosphere, can form amino acids and carboxylic acids, the basic building blocks of proteins and organic life,” NASA said in a statement.

Solar storms could be behind the origin of life on Earth

The problem statement many scientists have faced in explaining the origin of life on Earth is the moment when inorganic compounds gave rise to organic compounds. Many theories have been used to explain what actually might have happened. These theories include asteroid strikes bringing organic matter from faraway space, strange geological conditions giving rise to organic matter and even aliens coming to Earth. But none have been able to satisfy all the factors and conditions that may have been responsible to sustain organic matter, which eventually leads to life.

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“The last 70 years have complicated this interpretation. Scientists now believe ammonia (NH3) and methane (CH4) were far less abundant; instead, Earth's air was filled with carbon dioxide (CO2) and molecular nitrogen (N2), which require more energy to break down. These gases can still yield amino acids, but in greatly reduced quantities. Seeking alternative energy sources, some scientists pointed to shockwaves from incoming meteors. Others cited solar ultraviolet radiation,” said NASA.

Vladimir Airapetian, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and coauthor of the new paper found a different solution — solar storms. As per the study, in the early days, with a young Sun, the rate of solar activity would be much higher than at present. Which would mean more solar storms, at a higher intensity were common.

In 2016, Airapetian published a study suggesting that during Earth's first 100 million years, the Sun was about 30% dimmer. But solar “superflares” – powerful eruptions we only see once every 100 years or so today – would have erupted once every 3-10 days. These superflares launch near-light speed particles that would regularly collide with our atmosphere, kickstarting chemical reactions.

The heat could have created the right condition for inorganic compounds such as methane to come together and form some of the most basic organic compounds. While more study in this field is necessary, this can be a consistent theory in explaining not only the origin of life but also the reason why it was sustained on Earth.

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First Published Date: 09 May, 18:05 IST