More than 2.4 billion years ago, Earth’s atmosphere was inhospitable, filled with toxic gases that drove wildly fluctuating surface temperatures. Understanding how today’s world of mild climates and breathable air took shape is a fundamental question in Earth science.
New research from the University of Maryland, the University of St. Andrews, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the University of Leeds and the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science suggests that long ago, Earth’s atmosphere spent about a million years filled with a methane-rich haze. This haze drove a large amount of hydrogen out of the atmosphere, clearing the way for massive amounts of oxygen to fill the air. This transformation resulted in an atmosphere much like the one that sustains life on Earth today.
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