December 2, 2021

Beyond Going Long

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Ancient traces of life found in a 2.5 billion-year-old sapphire

Researchers analyze some of the world’s oldest colored gemstones University of Waterloo They discovered carbon remains of what was once, surrounded by 2.5 billion-year-old sapphires.

A research team led by Chris Yakimchuk, Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Waterloo, decided to study sapphire geology to better understand the conditions required for sapphire to form. During this research in Greenland, which contains the world’s oldest known sapphire deposits, the team found a sample of sapphire that contained graphite, a mineral made up of pure carbon. Analysis of this carbon indicates that it is a relic of early life.

“The graphite inside this sapphire is really unique. This is the first time we have seen evidence of ancient life in sapphire rocks,” Yakimchuk says. “The presence of graphite gives us more clues as to how sapphires formed at this location, which is impossible to do directly based on the color and chemical composition of sapphires.”

The presence of graphite allowed the researchers to analyze a property called the isotopic structure of carbon atoms, which measures the relative amounts of different carbon atoms. More than 98 percent of all carbon atoms weigh 12 amu, but some carbon atoms are heavier, weighing 13 or 14 atoms.

“Living matter is preferable to a lighter carbon atom because it needs less energy to be incorporated into cells,” Yakimchuk said. “Based on the increased amount of carbon-12 in this graphite, we came to the conclusion that the carbon atoms were once ancient, possibly dead microorganisms like cyanobacteria.”

Graphite was found in rocks 2.5 billion years ago, at a time when there was not enough oxygen on the planet and life existed only in the films of microorganisms and algae.

During this study, Yakimchukov’s team found that this graphite not only connects the gemstone to ancient life, but is also essential to the existence of this sapphire. Graphite changed the chemistry of the surrounding rock to create favorable conditions for sapphire to grow. Without it, the team’s models showed that it would not be possible to create sapphire at this point.

Recently, a study of ‘corundum (ruby) growth during final assembly of the North Atlantic Archean kraton, southwest Greenland. ore geology overview. The accompanying study, “The Corundum Puzzle: Inhibition of Fluid Formation Involved in Sapphire Formation in Metamorphic Reflections of Metamorphic Rocks and Aluminum” was published in the journal Science. chemical geology in June.

References:

Starring: Chris Yakimchuk, Vincent Van Hensburg, Christopher L. “Evolution of Corundum (Ruby) During Final Assembly of the Arcayan North Atlantic Shorts, Southwest Greenland,” Kirkland, Christopher Zelas, Carson Kenny, Gillian Kendrick and Julie A. Hollis, August 20, 2021, ore geology overview.
DOI: 10.1016 / j.oregeorev.2021.104417

“Corundum Puzzle: Capturing the Composition of Sapphire Forming Fluids in a Metamorphic Mixture of Ultramafic and Aluminous Rocks” by Vincent van Hinsberg, Chris Jakimchuk and Anjunjuak Thomas Kleist Jepsen, Christopher L. Kirkland and Christopher Zelas, March 20, 2021. chemical geology.
DOI: 10.1016 / j.chemgeo.2021.120180

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