November 28, 2021

Beyond Going Long

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Ancient traces of life were discovered encased in a 2.5 billion-year-old sapphire

In analyzing some of the world’s oldest colored gemstones, scientists from University of Waterloo He discovered carbon remains that were ancient, covered with a 2.5 billion-year-old sapphire.

A research team led by Chris Yakimchuk, Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Waterloo, has begun studying 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 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,” says Yakimchuk. “The presence of graphite also gives us additional clues about how sapphires formed at this location, which is impossible to do directly based on the sapphire’s color and chemical composition.”

The presence of graphite allowed scientists to analyze a property called the isotopic composition of carbon atoms, which measures the relative number of different carbon atoms. More than 98 percent of all carbon atoms weigh 12 IU, but many carbon atoms are heavier with 13 or 14 IU.

“Living matter is preferably made of lighter carbon atoms because less energy is needed to incorporate it 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 life, possibly dead microorganisms such as cyanobacteria.”

Graphite was found in rocks more than 2.5 billion years old, a period on the planet when there was not enough oxygen in the atmosphere and life existed only in microorganisms and algal membranes.

During this study, Yakymchukov’s team found that this graphite not only associates the gemstone with ancient life, but is also likely essential for this sapphire to exist at all. Graphite changed the chemistry of the surrounding rock to create favorable conditions for sapphire to grow. Without it, the team’s models showed that sapphire could not form at this location.

The study “Growth of corundum (sapphire) during final assembly of the North Atlantic Archean craton, southwest of Greenland” was recently published in Raw geological reviews. A companion study, “The Corundum Enigma: Restriction of Undenatured Fluid Formations in Sapphire Formation in Metamorphic Enzymes of Ultramafic and Aluminum Rocks,” was published in the journal. chemical geology in June.

References:

“Corundum (sapphire) growth during final assembly of the North Atlantic Archean Craton, Southwest Greenland” Chris Jakimchuk, Vincent Van Hensburg, Christopher L. Kirkland, Christopher Zelas, Carson Kenny, Gillian Kendrick and Julie A. Hollis, August 20, 2021 f Raw geological reviews.
DOI: 10,1016 / j.oregeorev.2021.104417

“Mysteries of Corundum: Reducing the Liquid Structures Involved in the Formation of Sapphire in a Metamorphic Blend of Ultramafic Rocks and Aluminum Rocks” Vincent van Hinsberg, Chris Jakimchuk, Anjunjuak Thomas Kleist Jepsen, Christopher L. Kirkland, and Christopher Zelas, March 20, 2021 Available here. chemical geology.
DOI: 10,1016 / j.chemgeo.2021.120180

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