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Researcher: Many fewer minerals existed at time of origin of life than today

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Forsterite, abundant in Hadean/Robert Downs, UArizona, Ruff Project

From ScienceDaily:

Carnegie’s Robert Hazen compiled a list of every plausible mineral species on the Hadean Earth and concludes that no more than 420 different minerals — about 8 percent of the nearly 5,000 species found on Earth today — would have been present at or near Earth’s surface.
“This is a consequence of the limited ways that minerals might have formed prior to 4 billion years ago,” Hazen explained. “Most of the 420 minerals of the Hadean Eon formed from magma — molten rock that slowly crystallized at or near Earth’s surface — as well as the alteration of those minerals when exposed to hot water.”

By contrast, thousands of mineral species known today are the direct result of growth by living organisms, such as shells and bones, as well as life’s chemical byproducts, such as oxygen from photosynthesis. In addition, hundreds of other minerals that incorporate relatively rare elements such as lithium, beryllium, and molybdenum appear to have taken a billion years or more to first appear because it is difficult to concentrate these elements sufficiently to form new minerals. So those slow-forming minerals are also excluded from the time of life’s origins.

If correct, this won’t affect the origin of life theories that depend on clay or sulfide minerals, common back then, but it does disfavour theories that rely on borate and molybdate minerals. For boron and molybdenum in extraterrestrial OOL theories, go here and here.

Note: Apparently the August birthstone, peridot, is forsterite.


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