A new study provides a possible scientific explanation for the existence of stories about ancient saints performing miracles with water.
How do you get usable phosphorus into a system? A new study suggests lightning can do the trick.
- A chance discovery in suburban Illinois may change how we understand the dawn of life.
- Among other things, life needs water-soluble phosphorus, which was hard to come by 3.5 billion years back.
- This finding may imply that life has more opportunities to begin on other worlds than previously supposed.
In the beginning, there were a lot of meteorite impacts and lightning strikes<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Z5DWKTNqByM" title="YouTube video player" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> Phosphorous is an important chemical for life on Earth, cells use it to help build DNA and RNA and it is required for several other important functions. There is plenty of phosphorous on Earth, but not all of it is water-soluble. It is thought that much of the phosphorus on Earth three and a half billion years ago, about the time when life first appeared, was trapped in minerals that can not dissolve in water. Given how important water is for life on Earth, this was an obstacle to the rise of life. </p><p>Until very recently, the leading theory about where most of the soluble phosphorous came from credited meteorites, many of which have small amounts of the stuff. However, this theory always had problems. The number of meteorites hitting the early Earth, while high, is thought to have fallen drastically after the event which is theorized to have created the moon. The problem gets worse over time, with fewer and fewer expected impacts as the solar system stabilized. </p><p>Additionally, meteorite impacts are often catastrophic events more often known for ending life than helping to start it. The amount of phosphorous that could arrive this way is also limited, with the heat and trauma of impact potentially vaporizing much of the stuff and leaving a pittance readily accessible in the environment. </p><p>This is where the chance finding in Illinois comes in. In 2016, a hunk of <a href="https://geology.utah.gov/map-pub/survey-notes/glad-you-asked/what-are-fulgurites-and-where-can-they-be-found/" target="_blank">fulgurite</a>, a clump of fused sediment created by a lightning strike, was found in Glen Ellyn, a small Chicago suburb. The sample was given to the nearby Wheaton College. </p><p>A team of researchers from the University of Leeds examined the specimen as part of an investigation into the formation of fulgurite, but were surprised to discover that it contained a large amount of <a href="https://www.mindat.org/min-3582.html" target="_blank">schreibersite</a>, a water-soluble phosphate mineral. </p><p> Lead author and Ph.D. candidate Benjamin Hess explained how this find might alter theories on how water-soluble phosphates came into being billions of years ago:</p><p>"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. Lightning strikes Earth frequently, implying that the phosphorus needed for the origin of life on Earth's surface does not rely solely on meteorite hits."</p><p>Their findings were published in Nature Communications and can be read in their entirety <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-21849-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>. </p>
Okay, this is cool and all, but how can we possibly use this information?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/upRqAaCEEhw" title="YouTube video player" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> In addition to shedding light on the Earth's past environment and how it changed over time, this finding might also aid the search for life on other planets. </p><p>Lead author Mr. Hess speculated that the finding "also means that the formation of life on other Earth-like planets remains possible long after meteorite impacts have become rare."</p><p>This is important because, as co-author Dr. Jason Harvey explains:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>"The early bombardment is a once in a solar system event. As planets reach their mass, the delivery of more phosphorus from meteors becomes negligible. Lightning, on the other hand, is not such a one-off event. If atmospheric conditions are favourable for the generation of lightning, elements essential to the formation of life can be delivered to the surface of a planet. This could mean that life could emerge on Earth-like planets at any point in time."</em></p><p>While these speculations presume that alien life forms will require the same substances we do to exist, the discovery of a new source of usable phosphorus is an exciting find for those interested in alien worlds and in the early geology or biology of Earth. While we might never know precisely where the phosphorous used in the first life form came from, this discovery will help to make sense of where we came from and where we might find others like us out amongst the stars. <br></p>
At the press of a button, the Viatek Body Dryer blasts temperature-controlled air to dry off your body.
- Summer is right around the corner, which means swimming season is coming.
- Avoid drips and puddles in the house with the convenient and powerful Viatek Body Dryer.
- Save a ton of time and money on laundry by limiting towel use and drying off yourself and your pets with this body dryer.
If we lose our pollinators, we'll soon lose everything else.
- New research has found that warmer autumns are driving the extinction of monarch butterflies.
- Globally, 40 percent of insect populations are in decline; one-third are in danger of extinction.
- Insects pollinate three-fourths of the world's crop supply, resulting in 1.4 billion jobs.
Credit: Dave / Adobe Stock<p>While problematic, human development and pesticides have nowhere near the impact of warming autumns. Fall temperatures have outpaced summer increases for years, disrupting butterfly breeding patterns and the life cycles of the plants they depend on.</p><p>Fewer butterflies aren't just an aesthetic problem. Forister notes that the loss of these key pollinators could cause an ecosystem collapse in the coming years. Hotter falls also negatively impact bee populations. Recent colony collapses in Colombia are likely the result of <a href="https://phys.org/news/2021-02-colombia-apiarists-avocado-bees.html" target="_blank">monocropping avocados and citrus</a>. </p><p>The enormity of this problem cannot be overstated. Insects fertilize for us—three-quarters of all crops across the globe. According to a <a href="https://phys.org/news/2021-02-colombia-apiarists-avocado-bees.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2016 study</a>, 1.4 billion jobs depend on pollinators. With the loss of insects, our food supply (and a giant economic driver of society) goes with them. </p><p>Regional efforts to save monarch butterflies are underway. Tribal organizations in Oklahoma are <a href="https://newrepublic.com/article/161516/tribal-coalition-fighting-save-monarch-butterflies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">trying to replant milkweed</a>—often viewed as a pest by farmers—to boost butterfly populations. The Tribal Alliance for Pollinators (TEAM) has secured nearly a quarter-million dollars in the last three years to plant milkweed and nectar plants to help the annual butterfly migration to Mexico. </p><p>The road ahead will not be easy. Until legislative measures are enforced to curb climate change, seasons will continue to be unpredictable: warmer autumns, colder winters, especially in places unaccustomed to such drastic changes in temperature—last month's <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/texas-snowstorm-arctic" target="_blank">storms in Texas</a> provide a cautionary tale. Yet we've had many such tales at this point. With the loss of insects, there won't be any more stories left to be told.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>. His most recent book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>
This storm rained electrons, shifted energy from the sun's rays to the magnetosphere, and went unnoticed for a long time.
- An international team of scientists has confirmed the occurrence of a "space hurricane" seven years ago.
- The storm formed in the magnetosphere above the North Magnetic Pole.
- The storm posed no risk to life on Earth, though it might have interfered with some electronics.
Schematic of a space hurricane in the northern polar ionosphere.
Credit: Qing-He Zhang et al. / Nature Communications<p>This "space hurricane," as the scientists are calling it, was formed by the interactions between Earth's magnetosphere and the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interplanetary_magnetic_field" target="_blank">interplanetary magnetic field,</a> the part of the Sun's magnetosphere that goes out into the solar system. It took on the familiar shape of a cyclone as it followed magnetic fields. For example, the study's authors note that the numerous arms traced out the "footprints of the reconnected magnetic field lines." It rotated counter-clockwise with a speed of nearly 7,000 feet per second. The eye, of course, was still and <a href="https://www.sciencealert.com/for-the-first-time-a-plasma-hurricane-has-been-detected-in-space" target="_blank">calm</a>.</p><p>The storm, which was invisible to the naked eye, rained electrons and shifted energy from space into the ionosphere. It seems as though such a thing can only form under calm situations when large amounts of energy are moving between the solar wind and the upper <a href="https://www.reading.ac.uk/news-and-events/releases/PR854520.aspx" target="_blank">atmosphere</a>. These conditions were modeled by the scientists using <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-21459-y#Sec10" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">3D imaging</a>.<br><br>Study co-author Larry Lyons of UCLA explained the process of putting the data together to form the models to <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/space-hurricane-rained-electrons-observed-first-time-rcna328" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">NBC</a>: "We had various instruments measuring various things at different times, so it wasn't like we took a big picture and could see it. The really fun thing about this type of work is that we had to piece together bits of information and put together the whole picture."<br><br>Lyons further mentioned that these findings were completely unexpected and that nobody had even theorized a space hurricane could exist.</p>
Schematic of the 3D magnetosphere when a space hurricane happened. Different color shadings represent different regions of the magnetosphere.
Credit: Qing-He Zhang et al. / Nature Communications<p>While this storm wasn't a threat to any life on Earth, a storm like this could have noticeable effects on space weather. This study suggests that there could be several effects, including "increased satellite drag, disturbances in High Frequency (HF) radio communications, and increased errors in over-the-horizon radar location, satellite navigation, and communication systems."</p><p>The authors <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-21459-y#Sec8" target="_blank">speculate</a> that space hurricanes could also exist in the magnetospheres of other planets.</p><p>Lead author Professor Qing-He Zhang of Shandong University discussed how these findings will influence our understanding of the magnetosphere and its changes with <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-03/uor-sho030221.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">EurekaAlert</a>, saying, "This study suggests that there are still existing local intense geomagnetic disturbance and energy depositions which is comparable to that during super storms. This will update our understanding of the solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling process under extremely quiet geomagnetic conditions."</p>