The world's oldest water has the properties necessary to support life, a development that scientists think bodes well for the possibility of life on Mars and in other extreme environments.
Found seeping out of a borehole from an Ontario mine about a mile and a half below ground, the water is believed to have been isolated for at least 1.5 billion years, according to a study published Wednesday in Nature.
Researchers found "abundant chemicals known to support life," such as hydrogen, methane, and isotopes of helium, neon, and argon in the water. The water is still being studied by researchers at Toronto University to see if there is any evidence of life or remnants of life.
The study is the latest to look for life in the unlikeliest of places--and more often than not, microbes seem to find a way to get their, umm, living on.
Last year, an American team found all sorts of bacteria in Antarctica's Lake Vida, which is covered in more than 30 feet of ice, reaches temperatures of just 8.6 degrees Fahrenheit and is six times saltier than sea water. Life has also been found in deep sea hydrothermal vents, in storm clouds and in the Trinidad and Tobago's hydrocarbon Pitch Lake (which mimics conditions seen on Saturn's moon Titan). Meanwhile, Russian scientists studying samples from Antarctica's Lake Vostok--which remained untouched for 15 million years beneath 2.5 miles of ice--are still trying to get their shit together as they decide whether their samples are contaminated or not.
The water discovered by researchers working on this latest study is believed to be the oldest isolated water ever discovered on Earth. Previously, super-old water incapable of supporting life had been discovered in bubbles formed in rock samples.
"We've found an interconnected fluid system in the deep Canadian crystalline basement that is billions of years old, and capable of supporting life," Chris Ballentine, a professor at the University of Manchester and a coauthor of the study, said. He added that the finding is "central to the whole question of the origin of life, the sustainability of life, and life in extreme environments and on other planets."
The Canadian water is believed to have originated from the Precambrian Period, which dates from the birth of the world until the first complex organisms started developing about 541 million years ago. At the time, the only life Earth supported is believed to be microbial, so if the water supports any life, it'll almost definitely be bacterial. They'd also probably have noticed anything visible to the naked eye by now.
Ballentine says that the water's makeup is similar to water found in a similar system in South Africa that supports life. Of course, the finding has researchers excited for what might one day be found on Mars and on other planets, if we ever decide to you know, actually go there.
"What we can be sure of is that we have identified a way in which planets can create and preserve an environment friendly to microbial life for billions of years," Greg Holland, lead author of the study, said. "This is regardless of how inhospitable the surface might be, opening up the possibility of similar environments in the subsurface of Mars."
Start drilling, Curiosity Rover.