Life As We Don’t Know It

What the world’s oldest fossil tells us about life on earth and mars

Are we alone? Ever since our first venture past the enclosure of our planet’s atmosphere, human-beings have been plagued by this question. Each new development in science brings us closer to an answer and the recent discovery of “the oldest fossil ever” by the University College of London suggests that there may, indeed, be extra-terrestrial life on Mars.

The fossil, found in Quebec, Canada is believed to be at least 3.7 billion years old, and possibly even up to 4.2 billion years old. This is a staggering revelation as the ‘prior’ oldest fossils, found in West Australia, only dated back 3.4 billion years. As expected, this discovery has rocked the academic community and led to serious speculation; some scientists have theorised that life may have been thriving on earth over 4.5 billion years ago – only one hundred million years after Earth’s formation – rather than the previously believed 3.7 billion years.

The fossils found contained microscopic bacteria smaller than the width of a human hair and the founding team believe that the organisms would have resembled; “small tubes, with a ball-like base which stuck to the ocean rocks, and a stalk suspended in the water to collect iron, on which they fed.”

The organisms were found in rock formations but would have inhabited hot vents in the 60⁰C (140⁰F) oceans which covered the early planet. It is this habitat, alongside the revised time period, which has fuelled further speculation that similar organisms could have evolved on Mars. Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees stated that: “It’s indeed possible that life started on Mars as well as the Earth, but then fizzled out – maybe leaving some traces that we will discover from future probes”. However, he refuted the historical claim that “we are ‘Martians’ in the sense that life started only on Mars and then moved here via a meteorite.”

Hence, though organisms may not have been transported between planets in the same way that comets brought the building blocks of life to Earth, common atmospheric and topographical features support the argument of ‘Martian’ life-forms. As Dr. Dan Brown of Nottingham Trent University added: “As soon as we find [the] conditions on an exoplanet that would favour life as we know it, the probability of finding some form of life on that planet is very high.” He even suggested that the “hot environments” in which the microorganisms formed “are similar to hydro thermal vents also thought to exist beneath the thick ice of Jupiter’s moon Europa.”

Who knows, life may exist on multiple planets, hidden in their rocky and icy cores.

[Ilona Cabral]

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