Using data collected on more than 10,000 minerals over a 15-year study, scientists show the possibility that extraterrestrial life exists in the vast universe.
Information from each mineral could yield more data on the origins of life, direct the search for new minerals, and discover habitable planets and extraterrestrial life on other planets.
In a 15-year study undertaken by the Carnegie Institution for Science, every known mineral on Earth has had its origins and diversity cataloged for the first time in a 15-year study, which could pave the way for the reconstruction of the life story.
Minerals formed by different interactions could also provide clues to long-extinct life or the existence of an ancient ocean. Building on established procedures based on voluminous published literature that has not been collated into open access data resources, the new mineral cataloging system enables greater access to mineral science. 10,556 unique combinations of minerals and modes of formation have been discovered by researchers Robert Hazen and Shaunna Morrison.
A close examination of 5659 different mineral species and 57 different paragenetic modes reveals patterns in the distribution and diversity of minerals that are related to their changing formation environments.
In the stellar, asteroid, nebular and terrestrial contexts, the first minerals were dominated by relatively abundant chemical elements, in particular hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, magnesium, aluminum, silicon, sulphur, calcium, titanium, chromium and iron.
Then, through two main processes, an important mineral diversification took place. The first involved the incremental sampling and concentration of rarer elements through fluid-rock interactions, and the second involved oxidative stress and biologically mediated weathering near the surface. For example, complex granitic pegmatites, agpaitic rocks, and hydrothermal metal deposits all use the first process.
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The researchers found that while 1372 species or 24.2% are connected to two paragenetic modes, 3349 mineral species or 59.2% are only known from one paragenetic context. Pyrite, hornblende, albite, corundum, calcite, magnetite, hematite, rutile and barite are some of the minerals with the greatest genetic diversity; each of these minerals has at least 15 known modes of formation.
Paragenetic processes that most commonly affect minerals include condensation at volcanic fumaroles for 459 species, subsurface hydrothermal deposition for 859 species, and near-surface weathering or oxidation for 1,998 species. Many species are also related to environments of distinct igneous lithologies that are compositionally extreme, such as agpaitic rocks with 726 species, complex granitic pegmatites with 564 species, carbonatites and associated carbonate magmas with 291 species. .
At least 2707 mineral species are produced by biological processes, primarily by oxidative weathering, but also by 597 species of coal-related minerals as well as other taphonomic minerals, as well as anthropogenic minerals, such as by-products of mining, including 603 minerals.
Contrary to earlier predictions, the team found that only 34% of mineral species form solely as a result of biological processes. The Earth’s dynamic hydrologic cycle has been by far the most important factor in enhancing mineral diversity. Water-rock interactions give rise to at least 4583 different species of minerals or 81% of all species.
Possibilities of extraterrestrial life
The scientists also pointed out in their study that the timeline of mineral formation processes indicates that Earth’s mineral diversity was largely established during the first 250 million years.
This view of an early Earth with a variety of minerals offers many more believable feedback pathways over a longer time frame than previous models, which is important if life is relatively rare in the universe. But if life is a cosmic condition that emerges in every water-rich, mineral-rich world, then these findings support the idea that life on Earth evolved rapidly during the earliest moments of planetary evolution, reports Interesting Engineering.
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