Did Life on Earth Begin With Lightning Strikes?

Getty Stock Image
Getty Stock Image

Meteorites have generally been thought to be the cause of the presence of phosphorus on Earth, but some scientists now think lightning may have played a part.

Did lightning strikes trigger life on earth? A new study suggests that could be the case. One of the key ingredients needed to support life on earth is phosphorus, and multiple lightning strikes could have provided the right amount of it 4 billion years ago, scientists say.

"Most phosphorus on early Earth was trapped in minerals that are essentially insoluble and unreactive, meaning they couldn't be used to make biomolecules needed for life,” Benjamin Hess, study author and graduate student at Yale University in the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences, said. ”Lightning strikes provide a new mechanism for creating phosphorus in a form that can make important compounds for life.”

Meteorites have generally been thought to be the cause of the presence of phosphorus on Earth because they contain schreibersite, a phosphorus mineral, but when life began 3.5 to 4.5 billion years ago, fewer meteorites were reportedly impacting earth.

“Most models for how life may have formed on Earth's surface invoke meteorites, which carry small amounts of schreibersite. Our work finds a relatively large amount of schreibersite in the studied fulgurite,” Hess also said in the study.

And fulgurite is created by lightning.

The study also added that lightning bolts are much less damaging than meteor strikes. Currently on earth, we get around 560 million lightning strikes per year, but on earlier Earth those numbers are believed to be between 1 to 5 billion.

This news means life could still emerge on other Earth-like planets in the future.