A group of scientists led by a geologist Brian Hynek claims to have discovered, in the mountains of the Argentine desert, a unique ecosystem on Earth that may contain living creatures from ancient times. 3.5 billion yearswhen life began on the planet.
This unique environment, a system of approximately 12 lagoons, is located in Puna de Atacamaa wide salt flat lying 3,600 meters above sea level is the location of which Argentina shares with Chile and is considered one of the driest environments on Earth.
Although the conditions in this environment are hostile to most plant and animal species — rain is rare and solar radiation is intense — according to Hynek and his colleagues, they are a perfect example. how life evolved in the beginning. on our planet.
Life forms on the first earth
Hynek, a geologist at the University of Colorado who has been studying environments hostile to life for many years, discovered this unique ecosystem while examining satellite images of the Atacama highland desert, exactly in Argentina.
His attention was immediately drawn to a system of lagoons that spanned an area of approximately 25 hectares and which, from an aerial view, had an ‘alien’ appearance.
It happened that under the clear crystal water, giant mounds of plants could be seen, as if they were small mountains, about four meters wide and several meters high.
These ‘mountains’ are stromatolites, a type of microbe reef that scientists consider the oldest known evidence of life on our planet.
Too big to be modern
Modern stromatolites, which continue to grow on the coasts of some countries, such as the Bahamas, are relatively small: they measure up to a few millimeters.
On the other hand, the oldest stromatolites, of the Early Archaic, are believed to have been gigantic, to the point of reaching six meters in length.
In that sense, the structures of the Puna de Atacama lagoons are more similar to these ancient communities than to modern communities.
“We think these mounds are actually growing from microbes, which is what happens in the elderly,” Hynek said, according to the release of Phys.
The stromatolites found in the lagoons of the Atacama highland desert are too large to be samples of modern life. Photo: University of Colorado
A window into life on Mars?
Hynek and his colleagues believe that the bacterial communities in the desert lagoons of the mountains of Argentina may provide unprecedented insight into how life arose on Mars, which, from the evidence found- to this day, it seems similar to the Earth thousands of years ago. in years.
“If life on Mars had evolved to the level of fossils, it would be like this,” said the expert. “Understanding these modern Earth communities can inform us about what to look for when looking for similar features in Martian rocks.”
Details of the discovery, published in the journal Advancing Earth and Space Sciences, will be presented on December 11 at the next edition of the American Geophysical Union, which will be held in San Francisco.
Meanwhile, the authors expressed interest in returning to Puna in the Atacama Desert to confirm their results.