Tree lightning produces a fertilizer that has never before been found on Earth

Tree lightning produces a fertilizer that has never before been found on Earth

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Technological innovation website edited – 04/11/2023

A sample of fulgurite, within which “space phosphate” globules were found.
[Imagem: Matthew Pasek/University of South Florida]

Phosphates in fulgurite

When lightning strikes a tree—in addition to making the tree explode, burn, or simply fall—when traveling on the ground, the electrical discharge strikes the surrounding earth, sand, and rock, eventually creating a mineral called fulgurite, which experts also call a “fossilized beam.”

This happened in 2012 in the small town of New Port Richey, in the US state of Florida, and residents decided to sell young stones.

Fortunately, geologist Matthew Pasek, a professor at the University of South Florida, bought it. He then collaborated with fellow astrophysicist Tian Feng and mineralogist Luca Bindi (University of Florence, Italy) to study the stones.

The result could not be unexpected: in the midst of the fulgrites, the trio stumbled upon a new phosphorus-based substance that had not been found on Earth before.

“We’ve never seen this material occur naturally on Earth — minerals similar to it can be found in meteorites and in space, but we haven’t seen this exact material anywhere,” Pasek said.

The mineral, calcium phosphate, with the formula CaHPO3thus becoming the first member of a new metal group.

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The original fulgurite, which the scholar bought from the villagers who found it after a tree was destroyed by lightning.
[Imagem: Matthew Pasek/University of South Florida]

space phosphates

In humid environments, such as Florida, iron often accumulates and becomes embedded in tree roots. In this case, the lightning not only burned out the iron in the roots of the tree, but also the natural carbon in the wood. These two elements generated a chemical reaction that led to the formation of fulgurite, resembling a hardened booger.

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The unpublished material was just there, in the form of little beads.

In practice it is not much different from phosphates mined here on earth for use as fertilizers, but its composition reveals that the conditions under which it forms are very specific, usually involving a huge amount of energy and a very precise composition of the soil. ..

In fact, the team tried to recreate the material in the lab, but the experiments didn’t work, suggesting that the material probably forms quickly and under precise conditions—if it’s heated for a long time, for example, it turns into the metal found in meteorites.

“Previous research indicates that the reduction of phosphates by lightning was a widespread phenomenon on the early Earth,” said Feng.

The team plans to continue studying the material to determine if it can be formally declared a mineral. It should be noted that the first naturally occurring semi-crystal on Earth was also found in fulgurite, which is also formed by atmospheric discharge.

index:

condition: Methods for reducing phosphates through high-energy events
Authors: Luca Bindi, Tian Feng, Matthew A. Pasek
The Journal: Nature Communications
Volume: 4, Article No.: 70
DOI: 10.1038/s43247-023-00736-2

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