How, When and WHERE did Life Begin?

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In our continuous search for extraterrestrial life, we often have to look into our own “backyard” in order to see how life functions, and more importantly, how it got here in the first place. Well, according to scientists at the University of California have come to the conclusion that life here on Earth appeared nearly the instant the planet formed, some 4.1 billion years ago and 300 million years earlier than previously believed. Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In accordance with their research, and if proven to be true, then it would seem that life appeared on Earth incredibly short after the planet’s formation, and originated not here per se, but rather from a primordial disk of dust and gas surrounding the Sun as the Solar System was being formed, some 4.6 billion years ago.

Electron microscope images taken during the analysis of the graphite specks, which were trapped within immensely old zircon crystals. Photograph: Bell et al, University of California, Los Angeles
Electron microscope images taken during the analysis of the graphite specks, which were trapped within immensely old zircon crystals. Photograph: Bell et al, University of California, Los Angeles

“Life on Earth may have started almost instantaneously,” said Mark Harrison, co-author of the research and a professor of geochemistry at UCLA, according to a press release in Science Daily. “With the right ingredients, life seems to form very quickly.”

The research is based on tiny specks of graphite, trapped inside zircon crystals found in the Jack Hills of Western Australia. Some atoms in this graphite were enriched with the C12 carbon isotope, which is strongly associated with life. Even though billions upon billions of years have passed, this graphite was entirely sealed and isolated from outside conditions. The reason for why this theory isn’t a sealed deal yet is because the source of these carbon isotopes trapped in zirconium could also have originated from other, less likely sources, like a meteor impact. The thing is actually the amount of carbon needed to be one such meteor impact, make this scenario highly unplausible.

The reason for why this theory isn’t a sealed deal yet is because the source of these carbon isotopes trapped in zirconium could also have originated from other, less likely sources, like a meteor impact. The thing is actually the amount of carbon needed to be one such meteor impact, make this scenario highly unplausible.

If proven true, then it means that Earth was already sporting life when the moon was being continuously bombarded with meteors some 3.9 billion years ago. Up until this research came to light, it was believed that the Earth was still devoid of all life up until this moment in time.

“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.

And again, if the research is confirmed, then it could prove a strong possibility for life exist and be abundant in the universe. But the real thing is that, even if simple life may have had no real problem in developing in the first place, it took it an extraordinarily long amount of time to evolve into something as simple as the capability of photosynthesis.