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A lightning strike into a tree formed a "cosmic" phosphite

Added Wed, 12/04/2023
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Wed, 12/04/2023
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A lightning strike into a tree in Florida's New Port Richey led to the formation of a phosphite material characteristic of the space environment. This is reported by the University of South Florida.

"When lightning strikes a tree, the ground usually explodes and the surrounding grass dies, forming a trail of lightning and sending an electric discharge through nearby rocks, soil and sand, forming fulgurites, also known as 'fossilized lightning,'" geologist Matthew Pasek said. One of these fulgurites was found by residents of Florida and sold to scientists for research.

In a humid environment, such as Florida, iron often accumulates and covers the roots of trees. In this case, the lightning strike not only burned the iron on the roots of the tree, but also the carbon in the wood. Two elements reacted when heated, resulting in the formation of fulgurite, similar to a metal ball.

Pasek and his colleagues found a calcium phosphite group material inside the fulgurite from New Port Richey, which had never been found on Earth before - similar ones were found only in meteorites and in space. They tried to recreate this material in the laboratory with the help of powerful electrical discharges, but the experiment failed — it probably forms only under strictly defined conditions. The unique calcium phosphite found makes the degree of phosphorus oxidation intermediate between the degree of oxidation of phosphides and phosphates in terrestrial minerals. At the same time, prolonged heating of the discovered mineral will most likely turn it into the one found in meteorites on Earth.

The authors of the study believe that such lightning-induced reactions with the formation of phosphites played an important role on the early Earth and may have influenced the origin of life.


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