“Previously, people believed that the abiotic (no green plants involved) source of molecular oxygen is by CO2 + solar light –> CO + O, then O + O + M –> O2 + M (where M represents a third body carrying off the energy released in forming the oxygen bond),” Zhou said in an email. “Our results indicate that O2 can be formed by carbon dioxide dissociation in a one step process. The same process can be applied in other carbon dioxide dominated atmospheres such as Mars and Venus.”
Zhou used a vacuum ultraviolet laser to irradiate CO2 in the laboratory. Vacuum ultraviolet light is so-called because it has a wavelength below 200 nanometers and is typically absorbed by air. The experiments were performed by using a unique ion imaging apparatus developed at UC Davis.
Such one-step oxygen formation could be happening now as carbon dioxide increases in the region of the upper atmosphere, where high energy vacuum ultraviolet light from the Sun hits Earth or other planets. It is the first time that such a reaction has been shown in the laboratory. According to one of the scientists who reviewed the paper for Science, Zhou’s work means that models of the evolution of planetary atmospheres will now have to be adjusted to take this into account.
Of course, it didn’t lead to life on Mars or Venus. But elsewhere, who knows?
See also: Huge mountains fed life on Earth 600 million years ago? (Possible precursor to Cambrian? Of course, the life forms had to actually be there to take advantage of it. Stay tuned.)
Is there a good reason to believe that life’s origin must be a fully natural event?
The Science Fictions series at your fingertips (origin of life)
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