Volcanic lightning gave early Earth its fix

Volcanic lightning gave early Earth its fix


LIGHTNING bolts in the hot dust and gas plumes of exploding volcanoes may have seeded the ancient Earth with one of the essential ingredients for life. Today, organisms routinely “fix” nitrogen in the air, converting it to nitrogen compounds. They use enzymes to break the strong bond between the two atoms in a molecule of nitrogen gas and make compounds such as nitric oxide. But that bond is so strong that such reactions could not have happened spontaneously at the temperatures of the early Earth. Rafael Navarro-Gonzalez of the National University of Mexico and colleagues simulated volcanic plumes in the lab. Short, intense bursts of lightning split carbon dioxide molecules, allowing the oxygen atoms to react with nitrogen to form nitric oxide. The researchers estimate that volcanic lightning could have generated 1 to 10 million tonnes of nitric oxide a year on the early Earth ( Geophysical Research Letters, vol 25,
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