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Could Evidence of Original Life be on the Moon?

Feb 05, 2015 10:43 PM EST

Researchers are now proposing that evidence of the origins of life may very well be hidden on the Moon, where the earliest organic traces in existence may have been preserved in lava during the satellite's fiery adolescence.

That's at least according to a study recently published in the journal Astrobiology, which details how a team of astrophysicists, biologists, and theorists ran a series of experiments to determine if moon magma actually could have ensured that this evidence made it to today.

After all, molten rock normally doesn't preserve things, it destroys them. And yet if we look to the ruins of Pompeii, we find that lava can indeed preserve obvious hints that life was once there. So, what about on a microscopic scale?

Experts know that the simplest forms of life appeared on Earth some 3.8 billion years ago, but they still have no idea how. One leading theory is that it was actually brought to our newborn planet via asteroids, comets, or other large space debris - the same debris that struck our still-forming Moon. And while this evidence was no doubt eventually destroyed by shifting plate tectonics as Earth aged, the Moon simply cooled. Reason would say, then, that some of that evidence would remain there, frozen in time.

In their experiments, the researchers put various organic compounds and signatures of life in simulated moon dust and then heated it to as high as 1,290 degrees Fahrenheit (700 Celsius). They found that organic molecules would only need to be buried several inches below the surface of the rock they arrived in to survive molten superheating. Better yet, a layer about five feet thick would be more than enough - insulating the valuable evidence from heat even while the cooling lava actually protects it from solar winds and radiation.

"Evidence of prebiotic evolution on asteroids and comets or the emergence of life on Earth and Mars could all be preserved," researcher Mark Sephton, from Imperial College London, excitedly told New Scientist.

"It is an ironic possibility," he added, "that one of the best places to look for records of early life is our dry and lifeless Moon."

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