The element phosphorus is used to make matches. Molecular phosphorus has two common forms. There is white phosphorus which is dangerously combustible and is used to make fireworks and weapons. The more stable red phosphorus is used on the side of any box of safety matches. When you strike the match against the red phosphorus, a small amount of it is changed to white phosphorus to ignite the match. But phosphorus has more important uses than starting fires. Life needs phosphorus. The average human body contains about 26.5 ounces (750 grams) of phosphorus. Most of it is in our bones.
Phosphate is a compound of phosphorus and oxygen. It combines with sugars in living tissue to form the backbone of DNA, which is the blueprint for life found in every living cell. Phosphate is also part of a complex organic chemical called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) found in every living organism. ATP releases energy so that cells can function. Life needs phosphorus and could not exist without it in an abundant supply.
Recent research presented at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science on April 5, 2018, indicates that phosphorus may not be widely available in the Milky Way. The research indicates that it is more random than scientists had previously thought. That means even if one of the recently discovered exoplanets had all of the conditions required to support life, it still might be lifeless without phosphorus.
We have often referred to the many conditions required to make a habitable planet. Here is one more to add to the list. Life needs phosphorus, and apparently phosphorus is less widely distributed than we thought. Phil Cigan, one of the astronomers involved in the study, said, “It’s not a guaranteed thing to have phosphorus abundant everywhere, ripe for the picking. It seems to look like luck plays a bigger role in this.”
Is it just one more chance coincidence that planet Earth has the phosphorus needed for life? We don’t think it is a matter of luck. We think this is another evidence of God’s design for life.
–Roland Earnst © 2018