4 billion year-old fossils found in Canadian quartz
Scientists believe the mineral-rich, hot waters surrounding hydrothermal vents may have provided habitats where the Earth's earliest life forms evolved as long as 4.3 billion years ago.
The bugs, which lived on iron, are believed to have thrived in a deep sea hydrothermal vent system, a region of volcanic activity on the ocean floor.
Microfossils up to nearly 4.3 billion years old found in Canada of microbes are similar to the bacteria that thrive today around sea floor hydrothermal vents and may represent the oldest-known evidence of life on Earth, scientists said on Wednesday.
As geologists push the oldest evidence for life further back in time, and as astronomers pivot from finding planets to studying the chemicals they're made of, these far-flung fields of science will increasingly converge on the search for life elsewhere.
"If life happened so quickly on Earth, then could we expect it to be a simple process that could start on other planets?" asked lead author Matthew Dodd, a graduate student at the London Centre for Nanotechnology.
The Nuvvuagittuq Supracrustal Belt (perhaps the best-named geological formation out there) is a stretch of rock in the northern part of Quebec, Canada, on the Hudson Bay. Previous research had already shown these rocks likely formed in hydrothermal vents.
These haematite tubes represent the oldest microfossils and evidence for life on Earth. However, lead researcher Matthew Dodd is confident that his team's Canadian discovery will hold up to the scrutiny. We've seen more convincing ancient microfossils, but these aren't bad. Rocks that are three billion years old or older are hard to come by, as they have mostly been crunched up or eroded away many times over through Earth's turbulent history. But the University of Western Australia's David Wacey, who was not involved in this new study, told Ars that the multiple lines of evidence presented make a pretty strong case. They look like tiny tubes.
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When biological matter putrefies, it creates gases that could have bubbled up through minerals. 2017. In Nutman et al., they only found stromatolite-type structures rather than actual microfossils. Now the challenge for the researchers is to prove the structures were life and not just inorganic chemistry.
He said that the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER), Spirit and Opportunity, and the more recent Curiosity robot mission had overlooked areas that might have had rocks produced by hydrothermal vents.
The UCL report has just been published in the scientific journal Nature and saw UWA researchers helping to analyse samples of the fossils, building on their own research into WA based microfossils dated at 3,460 million years old. Stromatolites are built by microbes living in shallow seas and feeding on sunlight. This is proof regarding the oldest life forms on earth.
"It provides us with this high degree of certainty that these structures are indeed, biological microorganisms that were living and thriving around hydrothermal vents billions of years ago", he says. That's a mere second in geological terms, but it's also more time than separates humans from dinosaurs.
In addition, analysis is complicated because the rocks in question have often undergone adjustment.
All these findings have a cosmological angle too.
What's more is that along with the right temperature and liquid water, Mars also had two other ingredients needed for life as we know it: the right elemental nutrients, namely carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and phosphorus; and an atmosphere that protected the surface from harsh cosmic radiation and solar flares. "If we don't find evidence of life on Mars from 3.7 billion years ag, o then we can assume Earth was a very special exception".
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