The emergence of life on Earth may have had an unusual component. A new study suggests that lightning may have been one of the keys to the emergence of living organisms.
When lightning strikes sand, soil, or rock, it immediately melts the materials into a glassy block known as fulgurite, or lightning rock. When geologists excavated fulgurite in Illinois, they discovered something unexpected inside, an important ingredient for life that had long been thought to have been delivered to early Earth by meteorites. This means that lightning strikes may have been the source of this ingredient and the emergence of life itself billions of years ago.
A report of this finding is published in the journal Nature Communications. One of the minerals that was present in the fulgurite contained phosphorus, an essential element for life. “Phosphorus does play a key role in many basic cellular structures, such as forming the basis of DNA,” the authors say.
Climate modeling suggests that from the formation of the Earth, about 4.5 billion years ago, to the emergence of life, about 3.5 billion years ago, there may have been 1 to 5 billion lightning flashes each year.