Zircon Crystal
Early Earth may not have been the methane-rich reducing soup the scientific community previously believed it to be. Researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute uncovered evidence that will force scientists to write a new recipe for the atmospheric conditions of early earth that gave rise to the building blocks of life.
Prior to this study, scientists believed that early Earth consisted of an oxygen deficient atmosphere filled with methane, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide and ammonia. To date, theories of how life began on earth were concocted from these toxic ingredients.

In the paper titled The Oxidation State of Hadean Magmas and Implications for Early Earth’s Atmosphere that was published in the December 1st issue of Nature, researchers reveal that the atmosphere of early Earth may be closer to our current oxygen-rich conditions than previously thought.

The theory that the outgassing of magma released by volcanic activity was responsible for forming early Earth’s atmosphere is widely accepted by most scientists. To determine what gasses the magma was supplying researchers at Rensselaer looked at zircons, minerals contained in the magma that had crystalized into solid rock on Earth’s surface, to provide a glimpse into the past. Zircons, being that they are not destroyed over time like most other minerals, are commonly looked to for clues regarding the history of Earth. In this experiment, researchers used zircons to provide them with a sneak peak into the oxidation states of atmospheric gases by determining the oxidation state of the magmas that created the zircons.

Understanding the conditions that gave rise to life on earth is not only crucial to further our quest for knowledge of our own origin but alters the way we look for potential life on other planets in our universe.