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We owe our lives to the comets

Researchers from Tel Aviv University have discovered comets that contain key elements for the development of life on Earth

In the photo: Jack Newton photographed Comet Lulin from the observatory in the yard of his house in Arizona
In the photo: Jack Newton photographed Comet Lulin from the observatory in the yard of his house in Arizona

Humans have admired comets since the dawn of history. Their mysterious appearance in ancient times symbolized the wrath of God or a sure sign of failure in battle, at least for one side of the hawks. Now, researchers from Tel Aviv University justify our attraction to them - it is possible that the comets are the ones that provided the basic materials for the appearance of life forms on our planet.

While examining the chemical composition of comets, Professor Akiva Bar-Nun from the Department of Geophysics and Earth Sciences at Tel Aviv University found that they may have been the source of those missing elements that were essential to life in the ancient "primitive soup" that prevailed at the beginning of history. "When comets were hurled into the interior of the Earth through the atmosphere about a billion years ago, they provided a variety of organic materials to the nascent "young" globe and thus added materials that merged with the Earth's own large reserves of organic materials and led to the appearance of life, as we know it them today," says Professor Bar-Nun.

It was the chemical composition of the comet, Professor Bar-Nun believes, that allowed them to "drive" the development of life. The researcher published his theory in popular scientific journals, including the Icarus journal.

Using a unique device developed at Tel Aviv University, the researchers were able to simulate a comet's glacier and found that comets contain essential substances that provide the basic nutrients of life.

Mainly, Professor Bar-Non focused on the noble gases argon, krypton and xenon, since they do not react at all with other elements and therefore they are not destroyed by oxygen found on Earth. These elements maintained their concentration in the atmosphere in a stable manner throughout the lifetime of our star, explains the researcher.

"Now, if we examine these elements in the Earth's atmosphere and in meteorites ("falling stars" in the vernacular), we see that their various concentrations are not the same as those present in our sun. Moreover, the concentrations in the atmosphere are largely different from the concentrations in the meteorites that make up the bulk of the Earth. That is - we need another source of noble gases, which when combined with these meteorites (or the asteroid stream) can change the ratio. And this source came from comets."

Comets are essentially huge blocks of ice whose temperature ranges from minus 250 to minus 200 degrees Celsius. When they formed in the early period of our solar system, water vapor condensed directly into ice forming small nuclei. These nuclei gathered together over time and formed the comets, which are less than one kilometer in diameter, explains Professor Bar-Nun.

During the formation of the comets, the porous glaciers trapped gases and organic materials that were present in interstellar space. "The capture pattern of noble gases in glaciers gives us a certain ratio of argon, krypton and xenon, and this ratio - together with the ratio of gases originating from other moving bodies in space - provides us with the ratio we measure in the Earth's atmosphere."

Therefore, the arrival of comets and asteroids to the Earth led to the necessary ratio of materials required for organic life, "which eventually dissolved in the oceans and began the long process that led to the development of life on Earth," explains Professor Bar-Nun.

The plot began about 3.8-4.6 billion years ago, when both the moon and the earth were "bombarded" by a shower of asteroids and comets. "On the surface of the earth, most of the craters that were created disappeared by the movements of the continents and by the erosion of the wind and the drifting of the water. On the surface of the moon, they remained as they were," notes Professor Bar-Nun, who adds that during this "bombing" period life could not develop at all.

However, the Earth recovered and after about 300-400 million years, simple forms of life developed after the materials brought by the comets sank into the oceans. "At this point, another chemical development of these compounds took place in the water, and which over time became more and more complex," explains Professor Bar-Nun, "and which ultimately led to life on Earth."

The news from Tel Aviv University (in English)

On the same topic on the science site


  1. Eddie:
    The example I gave in response 13 is an example of a mechanism that functions almost like a primitive living creature.
    Some of these creatures do not know how to do anything other than move towards the food and reproduce.

    This is of course only the first step.
    As a matter of principle, a situation can arise where the waste materials produced by an "oil bubble" of type A are the nutrients consumed by an "oil bubble" of type B, and it is not difficult to describe a "circular" system of "bubbles" each consuming the "excretions" of the previous one.
    This is one of the speculations regarding the formation of life and food chain.
    It is also not difficult to describe a situation where "bubble" A finds its way into "bubble" B and the two begin to function as one being - more complex than either of them individually.

    In short: I am the last one who will not admit that we are only at the beginning of the road, but I have no doubt that this is a fascinating and useful path that we would not have taken if we simply believed in the supernatural.
    I also think that the results obtained so far give very good reasons to believe (yes - I use the word - but I explained the difference between this belief and religious belief) that in the end we will know exactly how life could have formed naturally (I say "could have formed" and not "was formed "Because I don't believe we will invent a time machine that will allow us to see what really happened).

  2. Shabbat observant. God is specifically referred to as "living God" meaning He is a part of life.

  3. to Dan Solo,
    Just on the side I wanted to point out an interesting episode. I spoke in response 16 about Lisenkoism, and these things are known. But not many notice that one of the so-called side results of this 'science' was the extinction of an entire scientific branch - the science of eugenics (the extinction was both at the principle level and at the physical level of the scientists - in accordance with the best Stalinist tradition). It turns out that the ideological framework that advocated the shaping of man by environmental conditions (while ignoring the fundamentals of genetics) led to an anachronistic adoption of Lamarckism, which was now presented as scientific 'truth', and eliminated the science of eugenics, apart from the tremendous damage caused to the sciences of genetics, agronomy, agriculture and economics.
    By the way, eugenics was also banned in the West, again for ideological reasons (although not due to regime brutality), because after World War II it was not the bon ton of the enlightened and progressive circles. Looking back, today we understand that it was possible to build a science of eugenics that meets the highest moral standards .

    Who knows what incentive and what use eugenics could have made in relation to the development and application of genetics in recent generations, had it not been eradicated or rejected by ideological science/for ideological reasons. Who knows what other intellectual advancement was missed because of this and how many geniuses were 'lost' to science and culture in general in recent generations because of this...

  4. Michael,
    To the link in response 13: Absolutely fine, and the article is really excellent. But what 'fact' about the formation of life does this point to? And do oil dips equipped with 'catalysts' in the presence of active substances simulate the entirety, uniqueness and complexity of a 'living' cell?
    For the link in response 14: It's fascinating. But for our purposes, one should pay attention and be careful in the third paragraph compared to note 6. In my opinion, the essentiality and uniqueness of the creation of the very phenomenon of life is still missing in the scientific innovation.

    dan solo,
    I would like to make it clear that I am not insisting here on a 'believing' approach, but on truth in science.
    I wholeheartedly agree with you that science must collect absolute facts, and formulate a scientific theory that tells, among other things, a proven and reliable factual count.
    But as long as it is speculation, which cannot even be possible at the level of a reliable calculation and with any practical probability, it is not a scientific theory that relies on facts and tells a 'factual' number. It is a collection of beliefs, and this fact is also a fact that sometimes the believers are also great scientists (and here and there also naive or charlatans).
    There is nothing wrong with beliefs in themselves, and they can, as happened in some cases in the past, be engines of advancement for a proven and reliable scientific theory, formulated at the end of the appropriate historical and conceptual process. The fact that the opposite cases - in which the beliefs remained as superstitions - were much more numerous, does not detract from the above statement.
    What does bother me, and in my opinion is sinful and harmful to science and human culture in general, is the presentation of beliefs as if they were scientific 'facts'. In such a situation of pseudo-scientific shows, the possibility of reaching real scientific truths is damaged, sometimes extremely damaged. And if the motivations to behave in this way and the purposes hoped to be achieved are ideological (and this happens even without realizing it) - then this is indoctrination.
    I would like to remind you in this context that 'science' is directed and motivated by ideology, - the Soviet communist 'science' known as 'Lisenkoism' and its serious results in the USSR over decades from the academic, economic and social point of view (and there is no need to even mention 'scientific' teachings particularities of a very particular German regime). It is possible that these are extreme examples and with extraordinary results, unmatched in our case. But their importance is that they demonstrate an incorrect principle of ideological science based on factual falsehoods.
    In my opinion, a great deal of the abundance of articles along the lines of 'we owe our lives to comets' and the wild and dubious theories, each presenting themselves as 'scientific fact', are speculations driven by ideology, and aimed at ideological ends.
    These ideologies are formulated with extreme judgments (too much, in my opinion), by people who are decent in themselves (I mean, for example, your wording in response 5). But here I do not have an argument with ideology per se, but with the unfair method of 'scientific' shows in the service of ideology.

  5. Eddie,
    Understanding processes that happened billions of years ago is indeed an extremely difficult task, but there is a fundamental difference between the scientific approach and the believer's approach.
    The scientific method collects the pieces of the puzzle, the absolute facts that can be found, and through them tries to tell the story called a scientific theory.
    Those who believe in this nation, start by putting together the story itself and then deny any scientific theory and even scientific facts that contradict their story.

    Arguing with the believers is Sisyphean and pointless, but there is a certain pleasure in the attempts to argue 🙂

  6. point:
    The 'solutions of demons' meanwhile come in all kinds of ridiculous-charlatan theories. For example, in the form of 'comets' coming out like Deus Ex Machina from a 'unique device that was developed' when 'researchers succeeded' in a dubious experiment in finding 'vital substances that provide the basic nutrients of life' 'that were essential to life in the ancient imaginary "primordial soup" that prevailed 'In the beginning of history', i.e. in the highly imaginative minds of deceivers of all kinds. From this it is clear that 'we owe our lives to the stars of the comet'...
    I wrote in response 1 that the article is 'instructive'. It is indeed instructive, in the sense that I learn that if demons are 'cometary', then the source should be preferred - all kinds of colorful characters from mythology.

    It is about time that a respectable and respected newspaper does not issue us every two weeks or so articles on non-serious subjects with all kinds of recycled mythological demons in modern clothing. A little bit of common sense is required here...
    All this, unless it is assumed that someone has basic educational trends, that is, to tame us with 'opinion' and it is, in your language - 'life was created naturally, and this is absolutely scientific', even though it is actually far from being a 'scientific fact'; Or just grab headlines. I prefer not to think either way.

    There are some fundamental and fundamental differences between the formation of an embryo from the more or less known state of DNA, and which can be tested and confirmed theoretically and practically (also computationally, within reasonable or at least practical limits), and the formation of the first living cell from a 'natural state' which is a wild guess, imagination and eye contact.

  7. Am I the only one who noticed that nothing is written in this cry?

    Using a unique device developed at Tel Aviv University, the researchers were able to simulate a comet's glacier and found that comets contain essential substances that provide the basic nutrients of life.

    Doesn't that sound a little funny?

    Especially in the comet that hit Australia, amino acids were found in a chiral structure that does not exist in most living things on Earth, xanthines, carbon molecules and building blocks for DNA?

  8. Eddy, even the spontaneous formation of an embryo from DNA cannot be calculated a priori.
    My feeling is that you jump too quickly to solutions of demons.
    Life arose naturally, and that is strictly scientific.

  9. interesting article,
    Regarding probability, fate, God, accidents and other rolling theories -
    I believe without believing. –

    Tomorrow is a new day = new theories = disbelief = constant change of mind = progress

  10. to Dan Solo,

    Please see my previous response (response 6). By the way, all the attempts in the last decades, to create even one living cell, under conditioned and controlled conditions of a laboratory - failed miserably.

    In light of all that has been said, would you agree with me that it is possible (maybe?) that 'something more' is missing from the pure chemophysical level of processes, a factor that cannot be perceived at the chemophysical level - and perhaps it is the factor that initiates the whole process, or necessarily joins it?
    So your conclusion in your comment ("God was invented a few billion years later") is perhaps somewhat satisfied?

  11. to the point,

    In principle, I can agree with you.

    There are people who have theories around the topic of spontaneous formation. They 'know' what the processes were and for them the processes did happen. Otherwise they would not hold the spontaneous formation as a 'fact'. The problem is that no matter how many people try to calculate probabilities - they arrive at a practical probability of zero, and in any case the conclusion is that this is not a scientific 'fact', but a belief. One of the questions I asked is aimed at these people.
    An alternative question I asked - refers to the possibility you raised, that is, that the processes are not fully known or cannot be fully known, and therefore any calculation is speculative, unreliable and of zero value. Therefore it is not possible to show and prove real computational probability to any degree, certainly not practical. In this case, it is certainly not about the spontaneous formation of life as a 'fact', and in fact it is again about 'belief'.

    Here it is, one way or another - in the current state of scientific knowledge - we reach the same conclusion; The question of the spontaneity of the formation of life is a matter of faith, not a matter of scientific 'fact'. According to Prof. Ben Noon, if and as much as they imply that it is a spontaneous, purely chemophysical formation, as a scientific 'fact', there is therefore no basis.

    And that's what I wanted to show and highlight.

  12. Another interesting question is the sensitivity of the entire evolution process.
    For example, if instead of N comets hitting the Earth four billion years ago, there had been one less hit, would we humans still exist today.

  13. Eddie,
    To calculate the probability of creating something, one must take into account all the possible processes for its creation. It can be said with certainty that we do not know all the types of processes that lead to the creation of a living cell (otherwise we could reproduce the entire process) and therefore any calculation of the probability of spontaneous creation of life is nonsense.

  14. Dr. Moshe Nachmani,

    Thanks for the instructive article.

    In the discussion surrounding the article "In ten years..." that was recently published on this website, the questions arose among other things: Is it possible to calculate the probability of the creation of the first cell given that the appropriate environmental conditions exist? Can such a calculation be reliable or is it unreliable in the state of existing knowledge? Is there a practical probability of creating life in a spontaneous chemophysical way?
    In light of this, the question may arise - is the creation of life in a 'natural' and spontaneous manner a 'scientific fact' or is it a 'belief' that still requires substantiation?

    In your article Prof. Ben Nun is quoted, who assumes that this is a scientific "fact'".

    Is it known of a reliable calculation method and practical probability - which might substantiate Prof. Ben Nun's calculus assumption?

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