Life Started On Earth 300 Million Years Earlier Than We Thought

A group of scientists has found evidence that life on Earth may be much older than we thought. But good luck baking a birthday cake big enough for a proper celebration: It’d need to hold around 4.1 billion candles.

In a paper published online Tuesday, a team of geologists at UCLA revealed they’ve discovered a sample of carbon that could be the earliest trace of life ever found. While the prevailing theory holds that life began about 3.8 billion years ago, the potentially “biogenic” carbon (so-called because the carbon they found is a particular isotope commonly associated with living things) is 4.1 billion years old.

Researchers explained that the team sorted through more than 10,000 zircons from Western Australia in search of crystals that might contain dark specks, which could be carbon. Out of a potential 656 zircons with dark spots, 79 were analyzed, and only one actually contained carbon.

Before they can conclusively say whether or not the carbon is from Earth’s earliest known living thing, the team needs more data. Lots of it. Ideally 1,000 more zircons with carbon in them. “We figure such a dataset could be obtained for $15 million,” Mark Harrison, a co-author of the study and a professor of geochemistry at UCLA, told The Huffington Post in an email, “or about 3% of the cost of a typical NASA planetary mission.”

If confirmed, the carbon, found inside of an ancient zircon crystal, would push back the date for life on Earth about 300 million years.

That’s significant, Harrison said, because “it further supports the picture … that the planet was much more like today (i.e., oceans, continents, plate tectonics) than our longstanding paradigm of a desiccated, lifeless, largely molten Earth prior to 4 billion years ago.”

“Twenty years ago, this would have been —> Read More