Scientists discover billion-year-old water in Canadian cave

Underground liquid contains high levels of hydrogen and methane

Credit: Image credit: Flickr/ESPRIT DE SEL

This is pretty cool: A team of Canadian and British scientists have discovered a source of water in an Ontario mine that has been isolated for a billion years or more. While the researchers say their study of the water and any possible life found in it could help determine if there was -- or possibly is -- life on Mars, (I'm more interested in something else: Does billion-year-old water taste the same as modern water? Seriously, I want to know.) Scientists say the water contains elevated levels of hydrogen and methane, both of which are essential to support life. The water was found in a Canadian mine 2.4 kilometers underground. The discovery was reported in the journal Nature, in which author Jessica Marshall writes:

Micrometre-scale pockets in minerals billions of years old can hold water that was trapped during the minerals’ formation. But no source of free-flowing water passing through interconnected cracks or pores in Earth’s crust has previously been shown to have stayed isolated for more than tens of millions of years.

“We were expecting these fluids to be possibly tens, perhaps even hundreds of millions of years of age,” says Chris Ballentine, a geochemist at the University of Manchester, UK. He and his team carefully captured water flowing through fractures in the 2.7-billion-year-old sulphide deposits in a copper and zinc mine near Timmins, Ontario, ensuring that the water did not come into contact with mine air.

After analyzing isotopes of noble gases in the water, the researchers determined that it has been trapped underground -- unexposed to our planet's atmosphere -- for anywhere from 1 billion to 2.64 billion years. Earth itself is about 4.54 billion years old, so that water could have been there for more than half of the planet's existence. That's some old water. NASA continues to search for signs of previous life on Mars. Ballentine said the composition of the Red Planet's rocks are similar to Earth's, so there is "no reason to think the same interconnected fluids systems do not exist there," he tells Nature. Which leads to another question: What would Martian water taste like? I'll never find out, but someday maybe someone will. Now read this:

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