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World's Oldest Fossils May Show Life on Earth 4 Billion Years Ago

This image provided by the NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program shows the first live tubeworm seen at a hydrothermal vent site in Atlantic waters during the August 2011 expedition.

Recently discovered “microfossils” in Canada are the oldest ever found on Earth and could show life on the planet more than four billion years ago, according to a new study in the journal Nature.

Scientists were not able to pinpoint the exact time frame when the fossils were formed they could be up to 4.3 billion years old but even at the lower end of the estimate, the fossils are at least 3.8 billion years old, making them “about 300 million years older” than any other fossils found to date, said Dominic Papineau, a professor at University College London who made the discovery.

Came from warm-water vents

The fossils are tiny, at about half the width of a human hair, and invisible to the human eye. Scientists say they came from ancient microbes that formed near warm-water vents on the ocean floor.

“Our discovery supports the idea that life emerged from hot, seafloor vents shortly after planet Earth formed,” study author Matthew Dodd said. “This speedy appearance of life on Earth fits with other evidence of recently discovered 3,700 million-year-old sedimentary mounds that were shaped by microorganisms.”

Dodd noted that the discovery of life on Earth not long after the planet's formation believed to be about 4.57 billion years ago means it's possible life could have formed on other watery planets in a similarly short amount of time.

“We could expect to find evidence for past life on Mars four billion years ago,” he said.

Fossils found in Canada

The site where the fossils were discovered, which is known as the Nuvvuagittuq Supracrustal Belt and located in northern Quebec, is also home to some of the oldest sedimentary rocks on earth.

Prior to this recent discovery, the oldest known fossil came out of Western Australia and was estimated at about 3.46 billion years old.