Image of the Day: 'Siamese' Star System Observed
"We're Watching a Solar System Get Destroyed" --Something Never Seen Before (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA)

"Life on Earth May Have Started Almost Instantaneously" --UCLA Scientists





"We need to think differently about the early Earth," says Elizabeth Bell of UCLA. The early Earth certainly wasn't a hellish, dry, boiling planet. A UCLA team of geochemists see absolutely no evidence for that. The planet was probably much more like it is today than previously thought the team concluded.

The UCLA scientists have found evidence that life likely existed on Earth at least 4.1 billion years ago -- 300 million years earlier than previous research suggested. The discovery indicates that life may have begun shortly after the planet formed 4.54 billion years ago.

The research is published today in the online early edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Twenty years ago, this would have been heretical; finding evidence of life 3.8 billion years ago was shocking," said Mark Harrison, co-author of the research and a professor of geochemistry at UCLA. "Life on Earth may have started almost instantaneously," added Harrison, a member of the National Academy of Sciences. "With the right ingredients, life seems to form very quickly."

The new research suggests that life existed prior to the massive bombardment of the inner solar system that formed the moon's large craters 3.9 billion years ago.

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

Scientists had long believed the Earth was dry and desolate during that time period. Harrison's research -- including a 2008 study in Nature he co-authored with Craig Manning, a professor of geology and geochemistry at UCLA, and former UCLA graduate student Michelle Hopkins -- is proving otherwise.

The researchers, led by Bell -- a postdoctoral scholar in Harrison's laboratory -- studied more than 10,000 zircons originally formed from molten rocks, or magmas, from Western Australia. Zircons are heavy, durable minerals related to the synthetic cubic zirconium used for imitation diamonds. They capture and preserve their immediate environment, meaning they can serve as time capsules. The carbon contained in the zircon has a characteristic signature -- a specific ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-13 -- that indicates the presence of photosynthetic life.

The scientists identified 656 zircons containing dark specks that could be revealing and closely analyzed 79 of them with Raman spectroscopy, a technique that shows the molecular and chemical structure of ancient microorganisms in three dimensions.

Bell and Boehnke, who have pioneered chemical and mineralogical tests to determine the condition of ancient zircons, were searching for carbon, the key component for life. One of the 79 zircons contained graphite -- pure carbon -- in two locations.

"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," Harrison said.

How confident are they that their zircon represents 4.1 billion-year-old graphite? "Very confident," Harrison said. "There is no better case of a primary inclusion in a mineral ever documented, and nobody has offered a plausible alternative explanation for graphite of non-biological origin into a zircon."

The graphite is older than the zircon containing it, the researchers said. They know the zircon is 4.1 billion years old, based on its ratio of uranium to lead; they don't know how much older the graphite is.

The research suggests life in the universe could be abundant, Harrison said. On Earth, simple life appears to have formed quickly, but it likely took many millions of years for very simple life to evolve the ability to photosynthesize.

The Daily Galaxy via UCLA


"Twenty years ago, this would have been heretical" no my friends, if i share this page on my facebook wall today i`ll be burnt to ashes by half my relatives that believe that the Earth is 6000 years old period. Plus 7 days or so. If we find life on another planet or satellite they won`t give a damn and thousands of videos will appear on youtube religious channels claiming conspiracy and fake like with the Moon landing. If an alien descends tomorrow in a shiny spaceship they`ll fall down to knees screaming Jesus is back. Or another name depending in what country it lands.

Some years back it was theorized that the 2nd bombardment period either wiped out all life or perhaps the theory said, that a smidgen of life persisted and that plus a restart of life in other parts of new Earth also contributed to present day life forms. That may mean that not one but two "life starts" happened on different parts of our before the 2nd bobmardment and one after.

That could explain how different some present day (and past) life forms are from each other...from essentially two starts. Or perhaps more than just two.

I always thought that if conditions were right that life would start itself fast...the right amino acids, the right "soup", temperature, water, atmospheric gasses etc..

The moon used to be a whole lot closer to Earth too right about that time, and huge tidal waves in the ocean happened twice a day, washing up to 250 miles inland twice a day...leaching out all those nice minerals from essentially new rock on land into the oceans to create an element rich ocean, not nearly as saline as it is now.

So, I am not at all surprised to hear that life started early on. It tells us, if true, that indeed Earth wasn't as bad a place as we thought less than a billion years after it formed with the rest of the planets.

Then life all around the universe must be continually 'bursting forth' but then then put to survival tests by the many 'filters' (astral body impacts, volcanoes, sun flares,...).

Astrobiologist John Delano covered this issue several years ago. He has a TED video that goes a lot deeper than this article.

@ Gaugain ...I think you write very poor fiction.

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