Chemical Impact of Solar Energetic Particle Event From The Young Sun: Implications for the Origin of Prebiotic Chemistry and the Fain Young Sun Paradox

Friday, 18 December 2015: 08:15
2016 (Moscone West)
Vladimir Airapetian, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, United States, Guillaume Gronoff, Science Systems and Applications, Inc. Hampton, Hampton, VA, United States and Eric Hébrard, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Code 699, Greenbelt, MD, United States
Understanding how the simple molecules present on the early Earth and possibly Mars may have set a path for complex biological molecules, the building blocks of life, represents one of greatest unsolved questions. Here we present a new model of the rise of the abiotic nitrogen fixation and associated pre-biotic chemistry in the early Earth and Mars atmosphere mediated by solar eruptive events. Our physical models of interaction of magnetic clouds ejected from the young Sun with magnetospheres of the early Earth show significant perturbations of geomagnetic fields that produce extended polar caps. These polar caps provide pathways for energetic particles associated with magnetic clouds to penetrate into the nitrogen-rich weakly reducing atmosphere and initiate the reactive chemistry by breaking molecular nitrogen, carbon dioxide, methane and producing hydrogen cyanide, the essential compound for life. The model also shows that contrary to the current models of warming of early Earth and Mars, major atmospheric constituents, CO2 and CH4 will be destroyed due to collisional dissociation with energetic particles. Instead, efficient formation of the potent greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide, as a by-product of these processes is expected. This mechanism can consistently explain the Faint Young Sun’s paradox for the early atmospheres of Earth and Mars. Our new model provides insight into how life may have initiated on Earth and Mars and how to search for the spectral signatures on planets “pregnant” with the potential for life.