Solar superflares millions of years ago may have heated Earth enough to support life while our young sun was warming up, according to new research offering clues to the long-held mystery of how life on our planet began.
Scientists analyzed observations from NASA's Kepler space telescope and found that stars similar to the sun but much younger erupt with intense superflares up to 10 times per day, Space.com
reported. Superflares on the sun occur about once every 100 years.
Scientists have long puzzled over how life began on earth about 4 billion years ago, when the sun was about 70 percent as bright as it is now. Superflares may account for how the much younger and smaller sun supported life all those millennia ago.
"Earth should have been an icy ball," study lead author Vladimir Airapetian said in a statement, describing what scientists refer to as the faint young sun paradox. "Instead, geological evidence says it was a warm globe with liquid water."
The superflares could have thrust energetic particles toward Earth, changing the atmosphere through a series of chemical reactions that created such essential compounds as nitrous oxide and hydrogen cyanide and warming the planet enough to create liquid water, Discovery News
The superflares observed in the study were three times as intense as the biggest one our sun produced in recent history: the 1859 Carrington event, which caused Northern Lights auroras as far south as Miami, Discovery News said.
The study was published in the journal Nature Geoscience
"Successive superflare ejections produce shocks that accelerate energetic particles, which would have compressed the early Earth’s magnetosphere," the report reads. "The resulting extended polar cap openings provide pathways for energetic particles to penetrate into the atmosphere and, according to our atmospheric chemistry simulations, initiate reactions converting molecular nitrogen, carbon dioxide and methane to the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide as well as hydrogen cyanide, an essential compound for life."
Cornell University’s Ramses Ramirez is using computer models to further study the topic.
“My goal is to compute the resultant greenhouse warming from the predicted gas concentrations and determine if they are enough to solve the faint young sun problem,” Ramirez told Discovery News.
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