Researchers have discovered the oldest fossil on Earth pointing towards the fact that the early life organisms existed on earth, and were thriving some 4.2 billion years ago. This new estimate is hundreds of millions of years earlier than it was previously believed by biologists. However, the discovery doesn’t end here with the description of the time period when the organisms existed on our planet. The findings stretch far and beyond our puny ‘pale blue dot’ and reach the long stretches of the red planet ‘Mars’ and the possibility of an alien life lurking in some corner on the planet.

A microscopic image of one of the earliest lifeform ever found

A microscopic image of one of the earliest life form ever found Credit: Dominic Papineau

The discovery is so far, the strongest evidence that backs the theory that similar life forms could also have existed on Mars billions of years ago. At the time these bacteria thrived on planet earth, Mars had raging oceans and an atmosphere that could support such life forms. Earth at the time was constantly bombarded by large and small comets, and the theory is that some of these rocks probably carried Martian bacteria to planet Earth and triggered a process that resulted in the life as we see it today – a phenomenon or theory which is widely known as Panspermia.

For most humans, it is a very far-fetched idea that the hustle and bustle of life that we observe in the 21st century, was once present in a form that could only be described as a kind of ‘living organism’ and nothing more. However, it is considered a fact that life emerged from a single cell and reached a profound level where we are now entertaining the notion of an Artificial Intelligence, much more advanced and perhaps cognitively more sophisticated than our ancestors or possibly us.

The fossil in question belongs to a microscopic bacterium, a very small organism, smaller than the width of a human hair. A team of researchers made the discovery within the rock formations in Quebec, Canada. The bacteria are believed to have lived inside hot vents under the temperatures of 140°F or 60° Celsius within the oceans that covered the early planet billions of years ago.

So, what does all this entail?

The team of researchers from University College London who made the discovery, strongly believe that in order to advance our search for extraterrestrial or alien life forms on Mars, we need to look for similar fossils on the surface of Mars. These Martian fossils would then throw light on, not just the presence of life on Mars, it will open new avenues in the field of astrobiology and hunt for alien life on other planets.
According to Mathew Dodd, who is the author of the study co-founded by NASA, early Earth and early Mars were in many respects very similar places. Biologists expect to find the signs of early life on both planets, since the conditions on both the planets billions of years ago, were not very different and if one could eventually sustain life, other can do so as effectively. Dodd said, “it’s exciting to find life had managed to get a grip and start to evolve on Earth so quickly after the planets formed”.

Researchers believe these tubes are relics of an ancient microbial form that lived near hydrothermal vents.

Researchers believe these tubes are relics of an ancient microbial form that lived near hydrothermal vents. Credit: Matthew Dodd / Nature

It has now been established that at least on one of the two planets life forms were thriving within the hydrothermal vent systems 4.2 billion years ago, so far there is nothing to suggest that around the same time when Mars contained liquid water on its surface, there couldn’t have been similar processes taking place on Mars. The study also suggested that if in the future a detailed analysis of the Martian rocks managed to yield no such fossils of early life forms, then it could be conclusively said that life only evolved exclusively on our Earth, despite the fact that Mars had all the right ingredients for existence of microscopic bacteria that existed on earth.