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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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Scientists spot massive ice deposits on Mars

Recent observations by MRO's ground-penetrating Shallow Radar instrument revealed a buried ice layer that covers more ground than the state of New Mexico.

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Scientists found layers of ice on the surface of Mars. Wikimedia Commons
  • Recently, scientists have found layers of ice on the Martian land.
  • Scientists think this ice might be a useful source of water for future humans.
  • The researchers had researched 8 locations on the surface of Mars.

Scientists have unearthed thick and massive deposits of ice in some regions on Mars.

The images taken by the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) showed the three-dimensional structure of massive ice deposits on Mars.

The ice sheets extend from just below the surface to a depth of 100 meters or more and appear to contain distinct layers.

It extending downward from depths as shallow as 1 to 2 meters below the surface, which could preserve a record of Mars’ past climate, the researchers noted in the journal Science.

This ice which was found can help scientists understand the climate history of Mars. IANS
This ice which was found can help scientists understand the climate history of Mars. IANS

“We expect the vertical structure of Martian ice-rich deposits to preserve a record of ice deposition and past climate,” said Colin M. Dundas, from the US Geological Survey.

“They might even be a useful source of water for future human exploration of the red planet,” Dundas added.

The researchers investigated eight locations on Mars and found thick deposits cover broad regions of the Martian mid-latitudes with a smooth mantle.

However, erosion in these regions creates scarps that expose the internal structure of the mantle.

The scarps are actively retreating because of sublimation of the exposed water ice.

The layers of ice can be used as water source by future humans on Mars, VOA
The layers of ice can be used as water source by future humans on Mars, VOA

The ice deposits likely originated as snowfall during Mars’ high-obliquity periods and have now compacted into massive, fractured, and layered ice.

Previous researchers have revealed that the Red Planet harbours subsurface water ice.

Recent observations by MRO’s ground-penetrating Shallow Radar instrument revealed a buried ice layer that covers more ground than the state of New Mexico.

NASA’s Phoenix lander had also dug up some ice near the Martian north pole in 2008, however, it is not clear if that is part of the big sheet. IANS