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3.48-Billion-Year-Old Australian Rocks Could Help Scientists In Their Search For Life On Mars

10 May 2017, 12:48 pm EDT By Anu Passary Tech Times
Ridges in the ancient Dresser Formation in the Pilbara Craton of Western Australia that preserve ancient stromatolites and hot spring deposits.
Researchers from the UNSW discovered ancient rock deposits that were part of Western Australia's Dresser Formation. These rocks are believed to be 3.48 billion years old and may aid scientists in their quest for finding life on the Red Planet.
  ( Kathleen Campbell | UNSW )

Scientists from the UNSW in Sydney found ancient rocks in a desolate stretch in Western Australia, which could potentially aid researchers in their search for life on the Red Planet.

These ancient Australian rocks — part of the Dresser Formation in Pilbara Craton — could contain possible clues to the oldest known existence of microbial life on land.

The UNSW researchers discovered the fossils — believed to be 3.48 billion years old — in Pilbara Craton as part of a hot spring deposit. The findings have pushed back the oldest known evidence of life on land by 580 million years. Prior to this discovery, the oldest known indication of microbial life on land was from deposits in South Africa, which contain "matter-rich ancient soils" and were nearly 2.7 billion to 2.9 billion years old.

The study's authors are excited about the findings as it is an indication that life existed on land much earlier than estimated.

Theories On How Life Originated: How Does The Discovery Impact The Hypothesis?

The researchers have two theories pertaining to the origin of life on Earth. The first theory is that it started in the hydrothermal vents in the sea, whereas the second posits that it commenced on land. The current study's researchers believe that the discovery of the ancient Australian rocks could imply that life originated on land, in hot springs, vis-à-vis the belief that life began in the oceans and then adapted to land.

"The discovery of potential biological signatures in these ancient hot springs in Western Australia provides a geological perspective that may lend weight to a land-based origin of life," Tara Djokic, the first author of the study remarked.

The Study: What Did The Researchers Find?

For the purpose of the study, the research team observed the ancient rock deposits, which are roughly 3.5 billion years old. These deposits in Western Australia's Dresser Formation are well preserved. The researchers found the existence of geyserite in the deposits, which led them to posit that the deposits formed on land and not the ocean. Geyserite is basically a mineral deposit and its formation occurs in the vicinity of extremely high temperatures.

The team also found layered rock structures called stromatolites, whose formation is attributed to ancient microbe communities. The scientists also discovered other signs in the deposits, which pointed toward early life. These included well-preserved bubbles, fossilized remains of micro-stromatolites, and microbial palisade texture.

Ancient Australian Rocks Discovery: How Will It Help Search For Life On Mars?

The researchers believe that their findings could help humans in their quest for the search of life on Mars. Djokic asserts that Mars has similar hot spring deposits to those of Pilbara's Dresser Formation. The deposits on the Red Planet are of the same age as the ancient Australian rocks discovered in the hot spring deposits in Pilbara.

Djokic added that the Columbia Hills on the Red Planet is believed to have a hot spring environment.

"If life can be preserved in hot springs so far back in Earth's history, then there is a good chance it could be preserved in Martian hot springs too," the researcher noted.

Van Kranendonk, Director of the Australian Centre for Astrobiology, added that the ancient rock deposits found in Pilbara were the same age as the Martian crust. Therefore, the deposits on Mars were "an exciting target for our quest to find fossilised life there."

The findings of the study have been published in the journal Nature Communications.

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