A study published in Scientific Reports found that iron-rich particles from meteorites and volcanic ash may be a key factor in the origin of organic molecules on the early Earth. Scientists studied how these particles contribute to the conversion of carbon dioxide into hydrocarbons, aldehydes and alcohols under various atmospheric and climatic conditions that may have been present on Earth about 4.4 billion years ago.
Predecessors of organic molecules, such as hydrocarbons, aldehydes and alcohols, were previously thought to have been delivered to Earth by asteroids and comets or formed by reactions in the atmosphere and oceans of early Earth. However, a new study has shown that particles from meteorites and volcanic ash could also have contributed to the formation of these molecules.
The researchers simulated a number of conditions that previous studies suggested might have been present on the early Earth and found that iron-rich particles from meteorites and volcanic ash contributed to the conversion of carbon dioxide into hydrocarbons, aldehydes and alcohols. The authors of the study also suggest that these molecules may have been further involved in reactions that led to the formation of carbohydrates, lipids, sugars, amino acids, DNA and RNA.
It is interesting to note that aldehydes and alcohols form at lower temperatures, while hydrocarbons form at 300°C. Therefore, the authors of the study suggest that as the early Earth’s atmosphere cooled over time, the production of alcohols and aldehydes increased.
By calculating the rates of the reactions that were observed and using data from previous studies of early Earth conditions, the authors estimated that their proposed mechanism could synthesize up to 600,000 tons of organic precursors per year throughout the early Earth.
This study is an important step in understanding how life arose on Earth. It also underscores the importance of studying meteorites and volcanic particles to our understanding of the origin of life on Earth.