Feeds

Earth once had hazy methane atmosphere like ice-moon Titan

Microbial flatulence dominated the pre-oxygen era

Business security measures using SSL

Billions of years ago, before Earth's atmosphere had oxygen, it periodically possessed a "haze" of organic chemicals including methane, boffins have discovered. During these periods the planet's air was more like that of Titan, ice moon of Saturn, than the stuff we breathe today.

"Models have previously suggested that the Earth's early atmosphere could have been warmed by a layer of organic haze," says Dr Aubrey Zerkle of Newcastle uni. "Our geochemical analyses of marine sediments from this time period provide the first evidence for such an atmosphere."

According to Zerkle and his colleagues, during the period 2.5 to 2.65 billion years ago, microbes were already producing oxygen in the oceans. However very little of this made it into the nitrogen atmosphere; instead there was a fluctuating haze of hydrocarbons, mainly methane (aka natural gas) but with some ethane and propane (patio gas) mixed in. This is similar to the present-day atmosphere on Titan, the giant ice-moon of Saturn, though it's so cold there that the hydrocarbons often fall as rain to form lakes. (Water behaves more like rock.)

Methane is still considered an important atmospheric gas by climate scientists today, as it has a greenhouse effect many times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Zerkle and his colleagues consider that their insights into the past atmosphere could be useful in refining our understanding of our planet's climate today.

"Besides the obvious importance for the evolution of the atmosphere, the role of aerosol formation is one of the most poorly understood components in the present day climate models," explains Professor Mark Thiemens of San Diego. "This provides a new look into this process that is quite new and valuable."

The new boffinry is published in the journal Nature Geoscience. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
SCREW YOU, Russia! NASA lobs $6.8bn at Boeing AND SpaceX to run space station taxis
Musk charging nearly half as much as Boeing for crew trips
PORTAL TO ELSEWHERE scried in small galaxy far, far away
Supermassive black hole dominates titchy star formation
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL
Discussing the vulnerabilities inherent in Wi-Fi networks, and how using TLS/SSL for your entire site will assure security.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.