The same week that a former Microsoft exec who likes to tear apart scientific studies accused NASA of inaccurate modeling regarding asteroid size, a new model by NASA scientists suggest that an angry young sun about 70% as bright as it now may have thrown out enough solar flares that it made life on Earth possible about 3.8 billion years ago.
Solar Flares could explain the “faint young sun paradox”
That paradox has caused researchers pause as a the Earth would have largely been covered in ice with the sun only shining on us at 70% its current brightness and heat. So how was there enough liquid water and warmth to encourage life?
The scientists, in a report published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience, posit that the sun’s volatility in the form of solar flares may explain the paradox and could help narrow our search for life on other planets.
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“Since birth, stars, like babies, undergo evolutionary emotional changes,” said lead author Vladimir Airapetian of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center recently told the Christian Science Monitor.
The doctor then, sticking with his baby metaphor, essentially said that younger kids are more prone to tantrums comparing these fits to the solar flares from the sun.
“Eventually they slow down in their emotions,” Airapetian says. “So today our sun is a pretty emotionally stable star.”
The scientists’ model suggest that an active sun would have battered the magnetosphere, allowing charged particles from the solar plasma to ultimately start “sneaking” into the Earth’s atmosphere. Once those particles came in contact with what was an atmosphere largely made of nitrogen causing it would have split atoms that could then bond to form to nitrous oxide which is a strong greenhouse gas.
Consequently, any large amount of nitrous oxide would trap heat warming the Earth’s surface sufficiently to support liquid water necessary for life.
Additional needs for life include HCN
The model also suggests that hydrogen cyanide could have been produced which many believe to have preceded nucleic acids as well as amino acids.
But not unlike the aforementioned Microsoft executive who took issue with NASA this week. Not everyone, however, is buying into the theory and model including James Kasting, a geoscientist at Pennsylvania State University who told the Christian Science Monitor that “I don’t think their mechanism could work even under the most favorable assumptions.”
He just doesn’t think enough nitrous oxide would have been made to sufficiently warm the Earth as the authors of the piece do. Speaking to the sun paradox Kasting said,
“We argue about what the details of the solution are. There are plausible solutions for the faint young sun problem, but it’s very difficult to prove that any one of them is actually correct.”
That said, Airapetian is sticking by his model and believes that he’s explained how the Earth could have warmed sufficiently to give the planet the foundation to later support life.
Shifting away from Earth a bit, the author suggests that by knowing how our planet came to support life would allow us to find planets with similar prebiotic conditions.
“My ultimate goal is to find a planet like Earth in the process of making life,” Airapetian says. “I call it pregnant Earth 2.0.”
Theories are only theories and now we have another about life on Earth.