How Did Earth Get Oxygen: New Study Explains

how Earth got its oxygen

Our planet was inhospitable and barren in the beginning, for quite a long time. When the oxygen kicked in, so did the multicellular life. But how did Earth get its blanket of oxygen?

A team of scientists compiled in a study new observations, insights, and reasons. They utilized a pioneering method to uncover new data about oceanic iron’s role in the birth of our planet’s atmosphere. 

What they found is truly astonishing.

Here is what you need to know.

A Timeline of the Ancient Earth

The scientists’ discoveries unveil more about our planet’s history and can even help the quest for habitable planets in other star systems. 

Nicolas Dauphas, a Geophysical Sciences professor at the University of Chicago, Andy Heard, a UChicago graduate student, and their team did quite the impossible. They recreated a timeline of the ancient Earth and examined the old rocks, and the chemical structure of the stones changes according to the conditions they evolved.

Infinite puzzle

As you might know, if there’s water around, oxygen and iron will form rust. Billions of years ago, the oceans were full of iron. 

That could have eaten up any free oxygen that was present back then. Theoretically, the development of rust should devour any excess oxygen, leaving none to create an atmosphere.

The team wanted to test a way to detail how oxygen could have accumulated despite that issue. So, they started with the idea that some of the iron in the water was actually blending with sulfur from volcanoes to create pyrite (fool’s gold). 

Next, the scientists utilized state-of-the-art facilities in Dauphas’ Origins Lab to make a precise new procedure to calculate small variations in iron isotopes to discover which way the iron was following. 

Finally, they used the method to examine 2.6 to 2.3 billion-year-old rocks from South Africa and Australia.

Satisfactory Results

The team’s analysis indicated that even in oceans that should have turned a lot of oxygen into rust, some conditions could have nurtured the formation of enough pyrite to let oxygen “to get out” of the water and create a proper atmosphere.

How did Earth get oxygen is still a complicated issue. But the scientists succeeded in solving one big part of it. 

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