Where does the Earth get its carbon from?

University of Michigan Study says it was inherited directly from the interstellar medium – the material that exists in the space between stars in a galaxy


Carbon survived an interstellar journey to reach the Earth, avoiding vaporization altogether, as was believed earlier, according to a new study.

Carbon is the backbone of life on Earth. It is responsible for regulating the climate and making the Earth a habitable planet. The study, detailed in the journal “Science Advances”, showed that most of Earth’s carbon is inherited directly from the interstellar medium – the material that exists in the space between stars in a galaxy.

This probably happened after the cloud of dust and gas that surrounded our young sun and contained the building blocks of the planets, formed and heated.

In addition, carbon was also likely isolated from solids within a million years of the sun’s birth, the research team at the University of Michigan in the United States said.

The team overturned the previously believed condensation model saying that the gas molecules that carry carbon would not be available to build the Earth because once the carbon vaporizes, it does not condense to a solid state.

“The condensation model has been widely used for decades. This assumes that during the formation of the sun, all the elements on the planet vaporized, and as the disk cooled, some of these gases condensed and supplied the solid bodies with chemical ingredients. But it doesn’t work for carbon, ”said Jie (Jackie) Li, a professor at the University of Michigan.

For the study, the team estimated the upper limits of how much carbon the Earth could contain. This helped researchers find when the carbon could have been delivered here.

Carbon must exist in the right proportion to support life on Earth. While the excess carbon can make the Earth like the planet Venus, trapping heat from the sun and maintaining a temperature of around 880 degrees Fahrenheit, too little, on the other hand, would resemble Mars: an inhospitable planet unable to support water-based life and having temperatures around minus 60.