Tiny Zircon Hints Life Existed On Early Earth 4.1 Billion Years Ago

Posted: Oct 20 2015, 10:14pm CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
Tiny Zircon Hints Life Existed on Early Earth
Carbon in ancient zircon (UCLA)

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Life existed on earth much earlier than previously thought, says new study.

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, have found evidence that life on earth may have begun 4.1 billion years ago, much earlier than previously thought. In other words, the procedure started shortly after Earth was formed 4.54 billion years ago.

Researchers reached this conclusion after examining tiny grains of zircons from Western Australia’s Jack Hills. They found that one zircon contained graphite – pure carbon – in two locations.

Zircons are heavy, durable minerals which are created by magma or molten rock. They can capture and preserve their immediate environment and can work as a time capsule. Raman Spectroscopy, a technique which can explain the molecular and chemical structures of microorganisms, detected pure carbon in zircon particles, which is a key component for life.

Geochemist Elizabeth Bell, who led the project and her colleagues, believe that zircon is 4.1 billion year old based on the composition of components from uranium to lead.

"The first time that the graphite ever got exposed in the last 4.1 billion years is when Beth Ann and Patrick made the measurements this year," said Mark Harrison, a professor at UCLA and co-author of study.

“Twenty years ago, this would have been heretical; finding evidence of life 3.8 billion years ago was shocking.”

Mark Harrison

Mark Harrison, Credit: Reed Hutchinson/UCLA

It has been long believed that Earth was dry and desolate and no life existed prior to the massive bombardment in the solar system 3.9 billion years ago which resulted in the creation of large craters on Moon. But the new research suggests otherwise; life existed before or must have restarted almost instantaneously.

“If all life on Earth died during this bombardment, which some scientists have argued, then life must have restarted quickly," Patrick Boehnke, a co-author of the research and a graduate student in Harrison's laboratory, said.

According to researchers, life in the universe was in abundance but appears to be simple which took millions of years to develop the ability of photosynthetic life, converting natural light into chemical energy for organism activities. The specific ratio of carbon in zircon indicates the presence of photosynthetic life.

"The early Earth certainly wasn't a hellish, dry, boiling planet; we see absolutely no evidence for that," said Harrison. "The planet was probably much more like it is today than previously thought."

The paper titled Potentially Biogenic Carbon Preserved in a 4.1 billion-year-old Zircon has been published in journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Via: UCLA

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