Well, yes, obviously

Fossils of bacteria found in Australia are the oldest yet discovered anywhere on Earth and predate the formation of oxygen on our planet, new research claims.

Given that oxygen in the atmosphere is a product of life then clearly, life existed before oxygen in the atmosphere.

30 comments on “Well, yes, obviously

  1. Correct. There was no free oxygen in the atmosphere then. Oxygen as it was produced was taken up by reduced iron, until it had all precipitated from solution. That is the process that formed the banded iron formations in the Pilbara. Only after the reduced iron had oxidised was free oxygen available in the atmosphere. That was a rather more important change than CO2-globull worming borrox.

    BTW, Pilbara BIFs are very poorly characterised. That’s what happens when you leave sedimentology to the structural geologists. Sadly there is no money in getting it right, so I’m an ex-Pilbarist

  2. Hence we know that there is no life on Mars. All the oxygen is oxides. This is one thing James Lovelock was right about, years and years ago; the planet can’t have any life on it, becuase it’s in the chemical ground state.

  3. Ian B – ‘Hence we know that there is no life on Mars. ‘

    Hmm. What I don’t understand about the certainty with which you make these remarks (you are rarely uncertain) is what your standing it.

    You are either the world’s greatest ever polymath, or a bullshitter, with wikipedia open on the next tab.

    I’m not sure which it is, but I would like you to tell me how it is that you know that *all* life in *the universe* requires or produces oxygen?

  4. I have many interests, and astronomy has been one since early childhood; at one point I was planning to be an astronomer, but then I ran away with the theatre instead.

    With all due respect, this is a comment section. Everything written here contains an implied “in my opinion”. People in discussions used the “statement of fact” form of discourse all the time. They say, “the government should increase child benefit” without the implied “in my opinion the government should…” because readers are expected to assume that.

  5. ‘Scuse my ignorance (implied in all my comments) but aren’t sedimentary rocks made by deposits from ancient life going into the sediment?

  6. Not necessarily. They’re made from sediments. Which might be sand formed by wind erosion that settles at the bottom of a shallow sea, or something.

  7. I’m not going to call bullshit on Ian B as he might have a point, however I would also point out that what he says may be true from the perspective of Earth based life appearing on Mars, but life can exist in other forms that would be capable of surviving on Mars without radically transforming the current environment.

    For myself, I personally believe that life existed on Mars when it had water, in bacterial form, but was unable to survive in the arid frozen desert that we see today.

    I doubt that we will ever find fossilized remains upon Mars as any life which existed when it was relatively water rich would have left little-to-no trace in the present environment (arid + wind erosion)

  8. New research? This stuff was being drummed into my head in the early eighties from research done, oh I don’t know, must have been in the Pencil & Paper Age.

  9. I think I meant carbonate rocks, Ian. Too ignorant to know if there are non carbonate sedimentary rocks.

  10. BIF>

    Sandstone, for starters.

    Ian B>

    That’s rather a daft thing to say. The free oxygen here on Earth was formed by bacteria flourishing in anaerobic conditions.

  11. The free oxygen here on Earth was formed by bacteria flourishing in anaerobic conditions.

    Er… that was exactly my point. Mars is in chemical equilibrium. Life’s whole means of existence is the disruption of that. You find a planet with chemistry like Mars, you can be confident there’s no life there. Alien scientists visiting the young Earth would have easily detected the chemical processes associated with life. For an old planet, they should be unmistakable.

    There’s simply no dynamic chemistry there. It’s just a dead lump of rock with a thin, stable envelope of gases. All it has is geology and climate. There is no biosphere.

    It’s funny; when I was a kid I got out-of-date astronomy books from my aunt who worked in a library and gave me books I might be interested in when they were pulled from the shelves. So, I had these astronomy books from the 40s, 50, 60s, and they were casual about life all over the solar system; broad leaved vegetation on Mars, tropical jungles on Venus. Then the Space Age arrived and we saw that these worlds were lifeless.

    But people cling to this idea that we will find life somewhere in the Solar System. It helps make space research a little more exciting, it helps acquire funding- hence the parade of NASA probes advertised as “looking for life” but which are never quite good enough to say Yay or Nay. It allows people to continue this “well, it might be somewhere we haven’t looked yet. In caves, underground, under the polar caps, etc. People want to keep speculating.

    But really, there is no evidence of life anywhere else nearby, and lots of good reasons to think there is none. Certainly, Mars gives every indicator of being utterly lifeless, and no indicators to suggest otherwise. Lovelock’s straightforward observation of the chemistry was profound. But, maybe just too straightforward for the optimists.

    If there were life there, we’d have seen it by now.

  12. but life can exist in other forms that would be capable of surviving on Mars without radically transforming the current environment.

    So your response, John, to #3 is “there could be life Jim, but not as we know it”?

    I’m easily amused :)

  13. Ian: I agree with you on Mars, although it’s worth checking to see if there once was life there. The really interesting ones to me are the moons around Jupiter and Saturn. There’s some pretty dynamic environments there, and life is a possibility.

  14. Matthew L:

    I was playing fantasy prime minister the other day (the Big State variant) and decided to start a British space programme, and was trying to decide what missions to prioritise. My personal choices were: a Ceres orbiter and rover, two purpose designed probes to the edge of the solar system/interstellar medium (one in the ecliptic, one polar) since the Voyagers were never designed for that and could die any day, a thorough study of Jupiter’s main moons especially Europa, and a Uranus system probe similar to Galileo’s job at Jupiter.Uranus and Jupiter appear to have the only two largely undisturbed satellite systems, so equivalent data on both would be very useful, I think.

    Of course all that cost quite a lot of money, so I had to let the poor starve to death, but luckily I’m a Libertarian so that didn’t bother me.

  15. Ian B – “Of course all that cost quite a lot of money, so I had to let the poor starve to death, but luckily I’m a Libertarian so that didn’t bother me.”

    Not Libertarian enough – should have put Britain’s nuclear technology to good use in a Project Orion style mission. You could send men to do it and it would probably cost less than the Olympics.

  16. Ian: You should grab a copy of Kerbal Space Program. It’s like interplanetary lego, lets you do all those missions you mentioned,

  17. T o be fair to the Life on Mars debate, there’s evidence that there was at one time a warmer, wetter Mars. Possibly life might have got a start there. But not firmly enough to change the Martian chemistry & conditions now wouldn’t permit that. But there’s nothing to say it couldn’t be still lingering there.
    The analogy’s your domestic freezer. It’s purpose is to prevent the flourishing of life, isn’t it? Kept at well below zero & periodically cleaned out with some pretty life hostile chemicals ( well some people’s are anyway). But leave an empty freezer firmly shut & unplugged for a few months & you’ll find out how tenacious life is.

  18. As an Arts educated person ,(I have to wear a yellow star in company of course), I vaguely remember in my my namby pamby way that one of the moons of Saturn may have life dependent on methane,( which I have just about heard of).Also, as to the starting point of this thread: there are supposed to be methane dependent bacteria in what are called oceanic “seeps” (search me!) on which terrestrial creatures like mussels feed.Just thought I ‘d mention it.

  19. To be fair to the Life on Mars debate, there’s evidence that there was at one time a warmer, wetter Mars.

    The question is “Did Mars ever have a thicker atmosphere than it currently does?” If it did, then it would have been probably have been both warmer and wetter …

  20. methane dependent bacteria in what are called oceanic “seeps” (search me!)

    I think you might be confusing the sulfur / sulphide processing bacteria around deep ocean vents with the archea (not bacteria) that process methane. In bogs, your guts, in fact pretty much everywhere (including deep ocean vents and inside sedimentary rock).

    But for your efforts, please swap your yellow

  21. Mars had a thick atmosphere but lost it pretty early.
    Likewise the cold at the distance of Saturn means evolution will not have had time to produce anything of great interest.
    I’d spend the money on mapping the galaxy for precursor chemicals such as amino acids (in lots of places in outer space, I’m told).

  22. Likewise the cold at the distance of Saturn means evolution will not have had time to produce anything of great interest.

    You’re ignoring tidal heating of moons close to such a large planet … Hence, although it is Jupiter not Saturn, Io. Or, as per Arthur C and relevant to the life possibility, Europa.

    I’m fairly sure there is more intelligent life on Europa than in the Berlaymont. Which, I’ll frankly admit, isn’t a risky bet.

  23. I don’t think I have misunderstood this headline from Fox News on Net “Methane eating bacteria could save the World.”Not very scholarly I admit but the more intelligible scholarly abstracts seem to be barking (le mot juste) up a similar tree.The moon I was trying to remember was Titan.I do not have the intense personal knowledge of these places that is de rigeur on this thread .I prefer the moons of Jupiter anyway as they have nicer classical names.(Thank God most heavenly bodies were discovered when people had a classical backround;left to scientists of my generation they would have ended up with names like Bargain Booze; Special Brew ;Manchester United and House Prices .)

  24. I don’t think I have misunderstood this headline from Fox News on Net “Methane eating bacteria could save the World.

    1. Its Fox News. ‘Nuff said.

    2. They’re not ‘bacteria’, they’re, as I said before ‘archea’. As the name suggests, older.

    3. If they exist on Earth, it is quite possible that they exist elsewhere in the solar system. We are not special. Although, as bif points out, you do need some warmth. Titan is okay in this context (remembering that we have no significant delay between the Earth having cooled enough for traces of life to exist and the current dating for the earliest traces of life.)

    4. And left to this generation, they might be called Posh, Sporty, Scary etc …

  25. ‘Nature’ has an article published 24.iii.10 entitled “Methane eating microbes make their own oxygen” (NB arts trained people give third-party sources ,quotes, facts& figures i.e. evidence.)
    “Researchers have discovered a possible new species of bacteria that survives by producing and ‘breathing’ its own oxygen.The finding suggests that some microbes could have thrived without oxygen-producing plants on the early earth-and on other planets-by using their own oxygen to garner energy from methane.”Later mention of Mars and Titan.

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