Study Shows How Earth’s Atmosphere Formed

The researchers found the air in the rocks was partly made up of an extremely rare form of the chemical element xenon.  (Image:  pixabay  /  CC0 1.0)
The researchers found the air in the rocks was partly made up of an extremely rare form of the chemical element xenon. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

The mystery of how Earth’s atmosphere formed has long been debated by scientists. However, some scientists believe that some of Earth’s atmosphere may have been brought to the planet by comets billions of years ago. A new study has found evidence to back up this theory.

In a new study published in Nature Communications, scientists have been analyzing tiny samples of ancient air trapped within water bubbles found in quartz dating back over 3 billion years.

The researchers found the air in the rocks was partly made up of an extremely rare form of the chemical element xenon. What makes this chemical element known as U-Xe so rare is that it isn’t usually found on Earth. It has not been found in any meteorites, and the component is not present in Earth’s mantle.

Consequently, the scientists have concluded that the U-Xe must have been added to Earth after a primordial atmosphere had developed. Therefore, comets would be the best candidates for carrying the U-Xe to the planet.

Prof. Ray Burgess, from Manchester’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences and a co-author, explained in a statement:

The researchers used drill cores from the Barberton area of South Africa; rocks from this region are extremely old and very well preserved. In the Barberton quartz, it was discovered that the 3.3 billion-year-old U-Xe had a composition that was very different from the xenon found in the Earth’s atmosphere today.

Lead author Dr. Guillaume Avice from CRPG explained:

Prof. Bernard Marty, who initiated the study and who is also based at CRPG, said:

Dr. Avice explained how the discovery shows the research possibilities for studying gases found trapped deep in the earth:

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