Life could have originated from ancient uranium-powered ‘nuclear geyser’

| | April 30, 2018

Life may not have originated in the primordial soup of an ancient pond, according to scientists, but rather in a “nuclear geyser” powered by an ancient uranium deposit. Shigenori Maruyama of Tokyo Institute of Technology says the idea came from what chemists know about crucial compounds in our own bodies.

The major chemicals of life, and presumably life itself, may have formed in an environment that was alternately wet and dry.

Maruyama has identified nine requirements for the birthplace of life. One place where all can occur at once, Maruyama says, is in the plumbing of a nuclear geyser. This would not only produce heat to power the geyser, but produce radiation strong enough to break the recalcitrant molecular bonds of water, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide, all of which must be cleaved in order to produce critical prebiotic compounds. Periodic eruptions of the geyser would also produce alternating wet and dry cycles, and water draining from the surface would bring back dissolved gases from the atmosphere. The rocks lining the geyser’s subterranean channels would provide a source of minerals such as potassium and calcium.

Once life originated, he says, it would have been spewed onto the surface and from there into the oceans. From there, it spread to every known habitable niche on the modern Earth.

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