The origin of life on Earth has always been a mystery. For many years, scientists have looked to the stars, believing that the building blocks of life that set forth evolution here on our planet came from an asteroid, comet, or meteorite. But now, some scientists say that the true origins of life on Earth might have been here on Earth the entire time.
A new paper shared in Science Advances, as well as a new article published on The Conversation, asks the question: “What if the origin of life on our planet was actually here the entire time?” It’s an intriguing approach to finding where life began on our planet, and the researchers involved say that the elements that made life possible – called volatiles – could have existed on Earth from the beginning.
Several elements are considered volatiles, including carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and a group of elements that researchers call chalcogens. All of these volatiles, which also include sulfur, selenium, and tellurium, evaporate more readily than other elements. And understanding how they made their way into the Earth can help us understand the origin of life on Earth, too.
One of the most prevailing theories, known as the late veneer theory, says that Earth first formed from materials low in volatiles. However, higher concentrations of volatiles began to appear after volatile-rich bodies (meteorites, comets, asteroids) began to hit the planet’s surface, allowing it to form completely.
The problem with this theory, though, is that these volatile-rich objects only brought around half a percent of the Earth’s mass. As such, most of these elements would not have arrived until sometime after Earth’s core had formed. The new research, on the other hand, says that Earth had these volatiles all alone, and that the life-essential elements were here from the beginning, during the planet’s earliest formation.
The study also seems to be consistent with a study tracing the origin of water on Earth, according to the researchers. It’s certainly an interesting idea and one that could provide more understanding of the origin of life on Earth as scientists continue to study it.