While the search for possible traces of life continues on Mars, researchers have come across remnants of ancient life on Earth rather by chance – in a ruby. According to geologists at the University of Waterloo, Canada, led by Chris Yakymchuk, it was the first time ever that traces of life had been found in a ruby. The ruby probably formed 2.5 billion years ago.
Graphite in ruby indicates life
Yakymchuk and his research team found the special mineral in Greenland, where the oldest known ruby deposits in the world are to be found. What makes the ruby special for research is that it contained graphite, i.e. carbon in its pure form. When the geologists analyzed the carbon, it turned out that the inclusion is likely to be a holdover from early life. “The graphite in this ruby is really unique. It is the first time that we have found evidence of ancient life in ruby stones, ”said Yakymchuk in a statement from the University of Waterloo.
Since there was not enough oxygen in the atmosphere around 2.5 billion years ago, life on earth only existed in the form of microorganisms and algae at that time. According to Yakymchuk, the remains of life discovered are “most likely dead microorganisms such as cyanobacteria.” In addition, it is clear to the researchers that the graphite was also necessary for rubies to be created at this location. Graphite changes the chemistry of the surrounding rock and creates favorable conditions for ruby growth.
Notes on the formation of rubies
For the researchers, the graphite find also provides important information on the conditions necessary for ruby formation. This is not possible based on the color and chemical composition of the ruby alone. Rubies are a special form of the mineral corundum. The typical red discoloration is caused by small amounts of chromium. By the way, only the red corundum is called ruby. All other color variants are summarized under the term sapphires.