Hmmm. . . if I have this straight, Hell already frooze over!

If I’m understanding the lead science article in the New York Times today, a lot of people will have to drop the challenge “when Hell freezes over” from their lexicon of defiant oaths. See, Hell already froze over. As a matter of fact, the whole idea that Hell should be hot may just be our ignorance of Greek mythology – but I stray from the main point of the article, which is this: Life probably began on Earth a lot earlier than has been thought.

Geologists now almost universally agree that by 4.2 billion years ago, the Earth was a pretty placid place, with both land and oceans. Instead of hellishly hot, it may have frozen over. Because the young Sun put out 30 percent less energy than it does today, temperatures on Earth might have been cold enough for parts of the surface to have been covered by expanses of ice.

Thus we have Hell freezing over – for the early Earth most certainly resembled the typical picture of Hell as a fiery place, totally inhospitable to life. It just changed much faster than we thought. And speaking of life:

In the new view of the early Earth, life could have emerged hundreds of millions of years earlier. “This means the door is open for a long, slow chemical evolution,” Dr. Mojzsis said. “The stage was set for life probably 4.4 billion years ago, but I don’t know if the actors were present.”

OK, so who cares? So what? Well I care because all of this is yet another piece of thepuzzle that is the continuing search for life elsewhere in the universe. It’s beginning to look like the formation of solar systems is a pretty typical thing, what with all the planets we’ve detected around other stars. But our methods of detection are too coarse to reveal Earth-like planets – that is, planets the size and probable composition of Earth. That should change in the next couple years. And our studies of Mars keep hinting strongly at the existence of life there at one time, but the proof is still missing. So when and under what conditions life emerged on our own planet is of significant interest for this, and I’m sure, many other reasons. Everything is connected, every piece of new knowledge helps. And with that in mind, I like the little tidbit on Hell they threw in at the end of this article – kind of shakes up traditional thinking. See this period in Earth’s history is known as the “Hadean Period,” but . . .

Dr. Mojzsis said “Hadean” might not be a misleading name for the earliest eon of Earth’s history, after all. The ancient Greek concept of hell was not one of fire and brimstone. “In Greek mythology, Hades was a dark, cold, mysterious place,” he said. “It seems to me the Hadean is living up to that moniker.”


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