Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Spark Of Life

Lightning bolts are well known for their destructive power. Yet it is thought that some of the essential building blocks of living matter were originally formed by the electrical energy of lightning.

A single flash of lightning can discharge sufficient electrical energy to make the oxygen and nitrogen gases in the air combine. Together they form nitric oxide, which dissolves in rainwater and reaches the ground as nitric acid.

All growing plants need nitrogen, but few can obtain it directly from the air. At least some of their supply is provided by the electro-chemical action of lightning.

Lightning may once have had an even more profound influence on the processes of life. In the early 1950s, chemist Harold Urey and his students at the University of Chicago simulated the effect of lightning on a mixture of the gases thought to have made up the early atmosphere of Earth. Products of the experiment included amino acids, the chemicals which form the protein molecules of all animal and vegetable life. Perhaps, many millions of years ago, the first life on Earth developed from the products of a lightning flash.

No comments: