After kindly asking a group of Canadian miners for a sample of some water they’d struck, a team of scientists who had been investigating similar finds discovered that the fluid they were looking at may have been sealed up for 1.5 billion years.
And that’s just the lower limit. The decaying radioactive atoms in the potential primordial soup told them that this cache of water (the oldest ever discovered) could actually have been waiting patiently in that rock for anywhere up to 2.5 billion years.
But this prehistoric time capsule isn’t just toting stale water, it’s also full of hydrogen which, as luck may have it, acts as food for certain microorganisms. Even better — the rock is able to supply a steady flow of hydrogen into its cozy little crevice, which may just have been enough to sustain at least some form of life for all this time.
So should it contain the descendants of ancient microbes — which it very well may — not only do we have a perfectly preserved specimen of ancient life, but we’ll also be able to glean a better idea of how we evolved. Because the potential life held within has been so isolated, it would have most likely evolved in distinctly different ways from our own microbial ancient ancestors.
Which leads to a, perhaps, even more exciting prospect; this may actually aid us in our quest to find life on other planets. If a living thing can exist in a location as remote and desolate as sealed off stone, it certainly gives hope to the prospect of something similar occurring on other planets — say, Mars, perhaps. According to Carol Stoker, a research scientist with NASA:
If you go back to the very early history of Earth and Mars, sort of the first billion years after the surfaces cooled, Earth and Mars looked very similar. The logic is if that happened on Earth, why shouldn’t it have happened on Mars?
Mars is desolate now, sure — but so is that sealed off rock. [NPR]
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons