Origins of Life

When did life on earth begin? For years, we've been digging deeper and deeper through geologic records to answer this question. Now, with some thanks to global warming, scientists may have found the oldest known evidence of life, pushing its origin another 220 million years to 3.7 billion years into the past.

Fossilized within the rocks of Isua in Greenland, researchers found tiny, conically topped, flat based, layered structures of about one to four centimeters tall, on the rocks' surface.

After thorough examination, scientists claim that these structures were the work of a swarm of microorganisms called stromatolites. This bacteria is usually present in ancient rocks previously found on the planet—pushing back the origin of life when Earth's skies were still orange and its oceans green.

Photo credit: Allen Nutman 

Surviving the Hellscape

The discovery was actually made 4 years ago, but the team wanted to be absolutely sure before announcing the find. The general scientific community will need some more convincing, but as for co-author Martin Van Kranendonk, of the University of New South Wales, he's "absolutely convinced." This discovery will show that life on the planet may have taken form quicker and easier, than once thought, after the planet’s birth—raising the chances of life, eons ago, for other seemingly desolate planets, like Mars.

"This indicates the Earth was no longer some sort of hell 3.7 billion years ago," lead author Allen Nutman, of the University of Wollongong, told Reuters of the findings that were published in the journal Nature"It was a place where life could flourish," he added. Similar early life on Mars now seem less of a long shot.

It's understandable to doubt the origins of life beginning 3.7 billion years ago, given the conditions on Earth. At that time, oceans were frozen, and rains of cataclysmic meteorites kept on turning Earth’s surface into molten lava. These hellish conditions, even on their own, could have prevented life from flourishing. These findings could be the proof that they didn't.

As Dr. Abigail C. Allwood, of the California Institute of Technology, wrote, “life is not a fussy, reluctant and unlikely thing...Give it half a chance, and it’ll run with it.”

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