Our planet’s early atmosphere was as toxic as today’s Venus, as gases escaped from an ocean of magma during Earth’s development, scientists found, after melting hovering marbles with lasers for their research.
Scientists say an object the size of Mars likely crashed into young Earth in an impact that released enough energy to melt the entire mantle of the early planet – the layer between the core and the crust – turning it into magma.
This gigantic event would have stripped most of the Earth’s atmosphere then, to be replaced by a new one, dominated by carbon dioxide and with little nitrogen – much like the atmospheric composition of Venus today. , and similar to Mars.
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The results come from a study by Paolo Sossi and his team at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, whose article, published Wednesday in Science Advances, examined “Earth’s magma ocean and its primitive Venus-like atmosphere.”
To understand the atmosphere of early Earth, the team set out to recreate these conditions by floating a small piece of rock on a jet of gas, then melting it with a laser at 1900 ° C.
“This little molten marble floating at nearly 2000 degrees is a kind of miniature Earth in its molten state”, Sossi told New Scientist.
Using different gases in the jet to suspend the piece of molten rock, the researchers recreated varying atmospheric conditions, allowing them to see which one most closely matched the Earth’s mantle samples and geological records.
The team found that once the atmosphere released from the magma ocean of early Earth cooled, it would have “Looked like that of Venus today.” This, they say, implies that the current differences between the atmospheres of Earth and Venus reflect what happened after the formation of the two planets.
Our planet is large enough for gravity to hold its atmosphere in place, unlike Mars, while Earth’s position in the solar system also makes it cool enough compared to Venus, the second planet from the sun.
This means that, unlike Venus, water remains in liquid form on the Earth’s surface and can absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to prevent the planet from overheating – and, most importantly, creating and maintaining the necessary conditions. to support life.
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