, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp 245-259

The prebiological paleoatmosphere: Stability and composition

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Abstract

In the past, it was generally assumed that the early atmosphere of the Earth contained appreciable quantities of methane (CH4) and ammonia (NH3). This was the type of atmosphere believed to be the most suitable environment for chemical evolution, the nonbiological formation of complex organic molecules, the precursors of living systems. Photochemical considerations suggest that a CH4−NH3 dominated early atmosphere was probably very short-lived, if it ever existed at all. Instead, an early atmosphere of carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrogen (N2) is favored by photochemical as well as geological and geochemical considerations. Photochemical calculations also indicate that the total oxygen column density of the prebiological paleoatmosphere did not exceed 10−7 of the present atmospheric level.

Paper presented at the 6th College Park Colloquium, October 1981