Rice University petrologists have found Earth most likely received the bulk of its carbon, nitrogen and other life-essential volatile elements from the planetary collision that created the moon more than 4.4 billion years ago. (Rice University)
The question of how life-essential elements such as carbon, nitrogen and sulfur came to our planet has been long debated and is a clearly important and slippery scientific subject.
Did these volatile elements accrete onto the proto-Earth from the sun’s planetary disk as the planet was being formed? Did they arrive substantially later via meteorite or comet? Or was it the cataclysmic moon-forming impact of the proto-Earth and another Mars-sized planet that brought in those essential elements?
Piecing this story together is definitely challenging, but now there is vigorous support for one hypothesis — that the giant impact brought us the elements would later be used to enable life.
Based on high pressure-temperature experiments, modeling and simulations, a team at Rice University’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences makes that case in Science Advances for the central role of the proto-planet called Theia.
“From the study of primitive meteorites, scientists have long known that Earth and other rocky planets in the ...