Popular science journalism tends to produce eye-catching headlines. Reporting on a recent attempt by Vladimir Airapetian at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland to solve the faint young Sun paradox is no exception.
Cranky young sun could have kickstarted life on Earth, New Scientist informs us.
“About 4 billion years ago, the sun was only 70 per cent as bright as it is today, which should have made the Earth a frozen snowball. But geological evidence shows that ancient Earth was warm enough for liquid water.”
Now, Airapetian proposes that giant solar flares might somehow have got passed Earth's magnetic field. Having reached the atmosphere, they could destroy molecular nitrogen:
“Nitrogen is an essential component for life on Earth, but the young Earth probably only had its molecular form, N2, which is useless for life. Solar particles from flares could split these molecules apart, allowing nitrogen to take more biologically useful configurations. Nitrous oxide, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, could have kept the climate cosy, for example.”
Here the worldview of the researcher (and the reporter) runs the show. And more is to come:
“As a bonus, similar reactions would have also made hydrogen cyanide, which can further react to form organic molecules like amino acids.”