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Earth was like Mars? Experts find fossils in Greenland dating back to 3.7 Billion Years

Greenland stromatolites find can make Mars look even more promising than before as a potential abode for past life

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Allen Nutman (L) of the University of Woollongong and Vickie Bennet of the Australian National University hold a specimen of 3.7 billion-year-old fossils found in Greenland in Canberra, Australia, August 23, 2016. Picture taken August 23, 2016. Image source: Reuters
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  • Stromatolites-fossilized communities of bacteria were supposedly found in south-west Greenland, these pre date fossils by 220 million years
  • There can be staggering implications of this find, one of them being a higher probability of life in Mars
  • The Earth was probably similar to Mars when stromalites started growing

September 1,2016– Fossils as defined in a dictionary are the remains or impression of a prehistoric plant or animal embedded in rock and preserved in petrified form. In simpler terms, fossils help us understand the existence of life that dates back to some billion years.

In recent news, the earliest fossil evidence of life on Earth has been found in rocks 3.7 billion years old in Greenland. This in way raises the chances of life on Mars aeons ago when both planets were similarly desolate, scientists said on Wednesday.

The experts found tiny humps, between one and 4 cm (0.4 and 1.6 inches) tall, in rocks at Isua in south-west Greenland that they said were fossilized groups of microbes similar to ones now found in seas from Bermuda to Australia.

If confirmed as fossilized communities of bacteria known as stromatolites – rather than a freak natural formation – the lumps would pre-date fossils found in Australia as the earliest evidence of life on Earth by 220 million years.

“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.”

Earth formed about 4.6 billion years ago and the relative sophistication of stromatolites indicated that life had evolved quickly after a bombardment by asteroids ended about 4 billion years ago.

“Stromatolites contain billions of bacteria … they’re making the equivalent of apartment complexes,” said Martin Van Kranendonk, a co-author at the University of New South Wales who identified the previously oldest fossils, dating from 3.48 billion years ago.

At the time stromatolites started growing in gooey masses on a forgotten seabed, the Earth was probably similar to Mars with liquid water at the surface, orbiting a sun that was 30 percent dimmer than today, the scientists said.

Those parallels could be a new spur to study whether Mars once had life, the authors said.

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“Suddenly, Mars may look even more promising than before as a potential abode for past life,” Abigail Allwood, of the California Institute of Technology, wrote in a commentary in Nature.

The Greenland find was made after a retreat of snow and ice exposed long-hidden rocks. Greenland’s government hopes that a thaw linked to global warming will have positive spin-offs, such as exposing more minerals.

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Nutman said the main controversy was likely to be that the fossils were in metamorphic rocks, reckoned to have formed under huge stress with temperatures up to 550 degrees Celsius (1,022°F) – usually too high to preserve any trace of life.

Still, Van Kranendonk told Reuters that dried-out biological material could sometimes survive such a baking, adding he was “absolutely convinced” by the Greenland fossils. (Reuters)

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  • Kabir Chaudhary

    Why are we always talking about Mars? Why don’t we show interest towards other planets?

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NASA’s Curiosity Rover Captures Images of Martian Dust Storm

The last storm of global magnitude that enveloped Mars was in 2007, five years before Curiosity landed there

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NASA image.
NASA's Curiosity Rover Captures Images of Martian Dust Storm. Pixabay

With NASA engineers yet to make contact with the Opportunity Mars rover due to a massive storm on the Red Planet, scientists are pinning their hopes on learning more about Martian dust storms from images captured by the Curiosity probe.

As of Tuesday morning, the Martian dust storm had grown in size and was officially a “planet-encircling” (or “global”) dust event, NASA said in a statement on Wednesday.

Though Curiosity is on the other side of Mars from Opportunity, dust has steadily increased over it, more than doubling over the weekend, NASA said.

The US space agency said the Curiosity Rover this month used its Mast Camera, or Mastcam, to snap photos of the intensifying haziness of the surface of Mars caused by the massive dust storm.

For NASA’s human scientists watching from the ground, Curiosity offers an unprecedented window to answer some questions. One of the biggest: Why do some Martian dust storms last for months and grow massive, while others stay small and last only a week?

“We don’t have any good idea,” said Scott Guzewich, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Mars Rover
Mars Rover, Pixabay

Curiosity, he pointed out, plus a fleet of spacecraft in the orbit of Mars, will allow scientists for the first time to collect a wealth of dust information both from the surface and from space.

The last storm of global magnitude that enveloped Mars was in 2007, five years before Curiosity landed there.

The current storm has starkly increased dust at Gale Crater, where the Curiosity rover is studying the storm’s effects from the surface.

But it poses little risk to the Curiosity rover, said Curiosity’s engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Also Read: NASA Plans To Install An Instrument To Monitor Plant Water Use

However, there was still no signal from the Opportunity rover, although a recent analysis of the rover’s long-term survivability in Mars’ extreme cold suggests Opportunity’s electronics and batteries can stay warm enough to function.

Regardless, the project does not expect to hear from Opportunity until the skies begin to clear over the rover.

The dust storm is comparable in scale to a similar storm observed by Viking I in 1977, but not as big as the 2007 storm that Opportunity previously weathered. (IANS)