Boron in the Universe

Jan 10, 2022 | SCIENCE

At the dawn of time, most Boron in the Universe was formed just after the Big Bang due to cosmic ray collisions. All planets, minerals, animals, plants, and even some bacteria contain boron. It has been argued that life itself is dependent on Boron. Where is boron from and how does it form naturally on Earth?

Origins of Boron

Boron in the Universe

Boron and the Origins of Life

The noted chemist and synthetic life researcher Steven Benner looked further back in time and promoted the idea that Boron in our unverse and specifically our plant plays an integral role in the origin of life for many years.

In the absence of Boron, he has found that many of the building blocks necessary to form the earliest self-replicating ribonucleic acid (RNA) will fall apart when exposed to water, which, however, is required for the chemistry to work. Benner proved that the formation of RNA and later DNA could only occur in the presence of Boron.

Now, the Curiosity team has found Boron on Mars, much to Benner’s delight and that of many other scientists. The presence of Boron has become increasingly apparent as Curiosity climbs the mountain at the center of Gale Crater. Additionally, to make Benner’s discovery more meaningful, the Boron is found in rock veins. It was transported by water into the fractures and deposited about 3.5 billion years ago.

Benner stated that “we have found an environment that is in complete agreement with what we believe to be conducive to the emergence of life on Mars.” This is in addition to the earlier detections of phosphates, magnesium, peridot, carbon, and other vital elements in Gale Crater.

In two different ways, scientists have hypothesized the origin of Boron in rock veins

The following are the findings in hypothesis A: (1) Boron dissolved in the Gale Lake and became part of the clay beneath it. (1) The lake eventually dried up, exposing the bedrock. (2) The lake then dried up, and the bedrock cracked. (2) Later, groundwater reacted with the clays, releasing Boron into the groundwater. (3) Boron and calcium sulfate were then deposited.

The following is true for hypothesis B: (1) Boron remained in solution. When the lake dried out, however, a layer of boron-containing salts, as well as other types of salts, was formed. Furthermore, the bedrock was fractured. (3) The salts were later dissolved by groundwater and moved into the older layers examined by the ChemCam instrument. In addition, groundwater deposited the salts containing calcium sulfate, forming the bulk of these veins (Source: Wikipedia).

Boron on Other Planets – Mars

Researchers reported the discovery of Boron in mineral veins on the planet Mars by the Curiosity rover in December 2016. This is the first time boron has been discovered on Mars. However, in Martian meteorites, Boron has been found, including MIZ 09030, MIL 09030, Nakhla, Lafayette, and Chassigny. For Boron to exist in the vein, there must have been a temperature between 0-60 degrees Celsius and a neutral pH to alkaline. The temperature, pH, and dissolved minerals in the groundwater facilitate a habitable environment. (Source – Boron found in Mars’ clay soil). Indeed Boron should be expected in most planets and bodies in our universe, however, the forms it takes may be redically different.

The Curiosity ChemCam instrument identified the highest concentration of Boron yet found on the raised calcium sulfate vein using its laser technology. ChemCam targets small microimages (inset) using the red outline. Detailed microimages display the location of each laser point on the ChemCam (red crosshairs) and the additional chemistry associated with each topic (colored bars). The base image for the map comes from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera. The north is on top. One kilometer is represented by the scale bar at the lower right.

This map illustrates the path followed by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover (blue line) as well as the locations where its Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument detected the element boron (dots, colored by the abundance of the element as indicated in the key below).

From the landing date (Sol 0) in August 2012 to the rover’s location in September 2016, the primary map shows the results of boron detections from August 2012 to September 2015. A magnified view of the latest portion of that traverse can be seen at the upper left of the image, which includes boron detections. Those overlapped dots represented cases where Boron was detected in multiple ChemCam observation points on the same target. Those that did not overlap described when Boron was seen on two different targets on the exact location. The rover has detected Boron most frequently in the last seven months (about 200 sols) of its uphill traverse.

How is Boron Found Naturally

While Boron is most commonly a dark brown, amorphous solid, it has an unexpected side. It can form hard, diamond-like structures. On the other hand, it can also be a soft, graphite-like material—the second most abundant element in the Earth’s Earth after carbon. Boron’s surprising properties make it a fascinating material for science projects.

Boron is a metalloid found in the atmosphere, which means that it formed after the Big Bang. It’s scarce in the solar system, only comprising 0.001 percent of the Earth. However, its high water-solubility has allowed it to be concentrated on Earth. It is used in industrial processes. The most significant deposits of boron minerals are in Turkey.

Boron was formed during the supernova explosion or stellar fusion in red giants or white dwarfs dying. Consequently, Boron, along with beryllium and lithium, are less abundant in other periodic table elements. As a result of cosmic ray collisions, Boron is one of the elements created when heavier atoms are split into lighter beryllium and Boron. This process is called “cosmic ray spallation.”

Boron has been  found on other planets as well, such as Mars. According to Benner, “we have found an environment that we believe to be conducive to the emergence of life on Mars.”, of which read more below and learn more  here in a separate Borates Today article.

He found that in the absence of Boron, many of the building blocks necessary to form the earliest self-replicating RNA will crumble when exposed to water, which, however, is essential to essentials. In the presence of Boron, only RNA and later DNA can be formed. Benner proved this.

There are Several Applications found in the technology and industry research of Boron. One of the fascinating things about the usage of Boron During World War II.

Discovering Boron

Laboratory Discovery

Boron is an abundant and natural substance present in many places worldwide and was discovered by Joseph L. Gay-Lussac, Louis J. Thenard, and Humphry Davy.

As we know it today, Boron is mainly obtained through refining metaboric acid or hydroboration. The processes developed by Humphry Davy during experiments he conducted between 1811-1813 based on Boracium discovered earlier by Lecoq de Boisbaudran. After much work and experimentation with other elements, Davy finally concluded that Borax should be renamed Boron because “it resembles Boracium so closely.” His suggestion to rename  Borax to Boron was accepted in 1884 by the International Union of Chemistry.

It is important to note that Boron took about three years to be accepted as an element after its discovery. There was outrage from other chemists at the time who believed Borax should be named Boracium instead. It wasn’t until much later that Boron was widely used. Boisbaudran’s research and Davy’s experiments were analyzed together, saying it is not just a metal but also for many different things such as glass making or cleaning agents.

After its discovery, the process took roughly three years for Boron to be accepted as an element. There was widespread skepticism from other chemists at the time. Boron’s most attractive property at the time was that it ould bond with almost anything except water.

Lecoq de Boisbaudran made a mention of this element in 1808. He wrote about the presence of a new metal called “boracium” in a rock sample from an oil mine near the town of Borås, Sweden. This was followed by Carl Wilhelm (Charles) von Berzelius, who first isolated pure Boron from this same mineral and announced his discovery in 1823.

Synthesizing Boron in the Laboratory

Unlike other elements, Boron is not formed in the big bang, stellar fusion, or supernovae as it is generally formed during different processes. Typically, this is how other elements are created, and not many people know the fascinating story behind Boron. Boron has a rich history that includes many levels, from its origin to its current existence. Despite our ignorance, we are still fascinated by stories about this element. Boron is an element of substantial interest. In nature, Boron is not something we would expect to find, but it does exist. The history of Boron stretches back billions of years, even before the formation of the Earth.