A group of scientists discovered a region of Earth that has previously gone undocumented, and within this region is a unique ecosystem that may be a window for researchers to look back 3.5 billion years to the state of life on Earth.
The previously undocumented region is located in a remote Argentina desert at an altitude of more than 12,000 feet. The team of researchers that discovered it caught glimpses of the terrain through satellite images and decided to pack up a car, drive as far as the road would take them, and then, when the road finished, walk to what now appears to be a prehistoric world of its own.
The researchers discovered a series of lagoons surrounded by salt flats that are home to microbial communities of stromatolites. These stromatolites are created by cyanobacteria, formerly known as blue-green algae, and a photosynthesizing bacteria that grows alongside minerals to create unusual rock formations over time. Researchers described this region in Argentina as the “best modern examples of the earliest signs of life on Earth“.
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“This lagoon could be one of the best modern examples of the earliest signs of life on Earth,” geologist Brian Hynek, one of the scientists who found this elusive ecosystem, said in a statement. “It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen or, really, like anything any scientist has ever seen.“
“It’s just amazing that you can still find undocumented things like that on our planet,” Hynek, a professor at CU Boulder, marveled.
“If life ever evolved on Mars to the level of fossils, it would have been like this,” Hynek said. “Understanding these modern communities on Earth could inform us about what we should look for as we search for similar features in the Martian rocks.“