The Origins

  • Roberto Ligrone


Primordial nucleosynthesis produced most of the hydrogen and helium present in our Universe. The other elements, including those essential for life on Earth, formed within the stars, spread in space and were incorporated into new solar systems. The Earth developed in the “habitable” zone of our system about 4.55 GYA, mostly by accretion of chondritic material. Gravitational separation of an iron/nickel core and a silicate-rich mantle generated the planetary engine that drives tectonic activity. Oxygen isotope analysis of ancient zircons suggests that tectonics started about 4.5 GYA; comparative analysis of zircons of different ages dates the start of modern plate tectonics to 2.9–2.5 GYA. Major outcomes of tectonic activity include (a) the formation of an atmosphere, an ocean and continental masses; (b) the activation of a planetary thermostat based on carbonate/silicate inter-conversion, essential to maintain the average temperature of the Earth surface in a range compatible with life; (c) the recycling of elements essential to life; (d) the maintenance of chemical disequilibria on the planetary surface, which created the conditions necessary for the development of life. The Earth was probably a habitable planet from about 4.4 GYA.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Roberto Ligrone
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Environmental, Biological and Pharmaceutical Sciences and TechnologiesUniversity of Campania “Luigi Vanvitelli”CasertaItaly

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