Direct evidence of the oldest life forms ever found on Earth - the fossilized remains of microorganisms at least 3,770 million years old - has been discovered by an worldwide team led by scientists with the University College London, UCL.
Remains of microorganisms at least 3.77 billion years old have been found encased in quartz layers in northern Quebec's Nuvvuagittuq Supracrustal Belt, in Canada.
Scientists discovered a 3.7-billion-year-old fossil fossil that could hold the key to the development of life on Mars. "Therefore, we expect to find evidence for past life on Mars [4 billion] years ago, or if not, Earth may have been a special exception", said Mr. Dodd. The apparent fossils were uncovered in the quartz layers of the Nuvvuagittuq Supracrustal Belt (NSB).
"Our discovery supports the idea that life emerged from hot, seafloor vents shortly after planet Earth formed". When the team scrutinised the microfossils further, they revealed a branching trait that was reminiscent of existing iron-oxidising bacteria living near hydrothermal vents. This also shows that hydrothermal vent environments were also one of the first, if not the first, places occupied by life on Earth. These egg-shaped structures often contain fossilized remains preserved in this form and embedded in younger rocks.
As evidence that the discovery is, in fact, a sign of biological life, the scientists pointed to a number of different observations, including the presence of the isotope carbon-12, which is considered "an isotopic signature of life", in the rock's graphite, as well as minerals in the rocks that typically form as a result of organic matter.
The UCL team believes that looking for fossils on the Red Planet is the best chance of finding evidence of alien life.
Conditions on early Earth and Mars would've been like a scene from hell. But even if the rock is younger than that, it would still make their finding the oldest record of life on Earth, by 100 million years. He says this more unorthodox technique was necessary for measuring the rock's age, because rocks from the Earth's infancy do not contain the mineral zircon, which is typically used to determine age.
The findings may have implications for life elsewhere in the universe.
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Prior to this study, the oldest known microfossils were found in western Australia and dated at around 3.5 billion years ago. The planet was eventually bombarded by comets, which scientists surmise is what brought the building blocks of life to Earth. The chemical patterns they found look just like known deposits of vent-loving microbes in much more recent samples from other locations.
Abigail Allwood, a NASA geologist, said the authors have produced "one of the most detailed cases yet made" for evidence of life in rocks older than 3.5 billion years.
The Nuvvuagittuq belt represents a fragment of the Earth's early oceanic crust and is made of basaltic rocks preserving pillow lava structures 'consistent with a submarine setting, ' according to the researchers of the study.
"They've gone a lot further than most other papers ever have; but it's not conclusive, and it never will be", Konhauser told Live Science.
"We're not talking about these complex forms of life on the early Earth, but this is where we think it actually happened", O'Neil told CTVNews.ca by phone on Wednesday.
"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. She cited the size of the tubes, which should be smaller if they are so old, she said.
They formed between 3.77 and 4.29 billion years ago, and may have been the habitat for the planet's first life forms.
"The other exciting aspect of this report is that these potential microfossils are from a rock unit not previously studied for early life", he continued.
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