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Billion-year-old lifeless water may hold secret of life?

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Kidd Mine/R Embley, NOAA

From New Scientist:

In 2007, geochemist Barbara Sherwood Lollar at the University of Toronto in Canada and her team found treasure in a copper mine. Water gushing out of cracks in the rock, caused by mining, turned out to be over a billion years old. Now the group has made a similar find in a second mine, suggesting ancient rocks could be riddled with such time capsules, right back to the early days of life on Earth.

Crucially, as far as the team could tell, the water contained no trace of life. “It speaks to this question of whether we can find an exotic small part of this planet that has not been touched by life,” says Sherwood Lollar. “These fractures may have been isolated long enough that they retain chemistry that reflects the same kind of processes that were taking place before there was life on Earth. At that time, presumably the whole planet would have looked something like this.”

Other sites, billions of years old, are also being investigated in Canada. One thing any such find might mean is that life could begin in the dark:

If they find anything like this, it would suggest that life can begin without light – good news for the quest for life on other planets. Many distant worlds have never received as much light as Earth, but it is suspected that some of them have hydrothermal systems similar to Earth’s deep-sea vents. Can such systems generate life in an otherwise dead world? We don’t know for sure, but Sherwood Lollar’s water offers an unprecedented opportunity to find out.

Actually, they don’t report finding prebiotic life or protolife or much of anything except very old water, some of which has been drunk.* We’ll see what turns up.

For why it doesn’t matter what they find, in term of what constitutes an acceptable view of the matter, see The Science Fictions series at your fingertips (origin of life)

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* Great sci-fi premise anyone?

Can such systems generate life in an otherwise dead world?
No. At least not on their own. And there isn't any good evidence that above-ground systems, even bathed in the light of the Sun, can "generate" life either. Can life exist in such systems [hydrothermal vents]? Of course. But there is little rational reason to think such systems can "generate" that life on their own. Eric Anderson
If they have water rushing into a copper pit, the Canadians need to take a look at the Berkley Pit in Butte, Montana. Maybe they can prevent what's happened in Butte if caught early enough. ayearningforpublius
"...as far as the team could tell, the water contained no trace of life." So very old water then? Any sane person with critical thinking skills still intact could have predicted that. Nothing to see here folks, move along. humbled

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