IMAGE: Optical microscope image of the filamentous microfossils. CREDIT: B. Cavalazzi.
There are days when we get new research results about our Earth that are all the more exciting because of what they say could be possible on other worlds. In a new paper appearing in Science Advances, researchers led by Barbara Cavalazzi document the discovery of microfossils: the imprints of early microbes called methanogens that once dominated our world.
These microbes existed 3.42 billion years ago, during a time when Mars had oceans and Venus wasn’t all that different from Earth. Life was able to form just that fast, and this life not only pushes back the when of life but also pushes out the acceptable conditions for life.
These fossils were found in two layers of sedimentary rock collected in South Africa near the border of Eswatini and Mozambique. According to Cavalazzi: We found exceptionally well-preserved evidence of fossilized microbes that appear to have flourished along the walls of cavities created by warm water from hydrothermal systems a few meters below the seafloor. Sub-surface habitats, heated by volcanic activity, are likely to have hosted some of Earth’s earliest microbial ecosystems and this is the oldest example that we ...