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830-million-year-old crystal discovered, may contain life

Audacy logo Audacy 5/26/2022 Joe Hiti
Salt crystal. © Provided by KCBS Radio San Francisco Salt crystal.

Scientists have discovered an 830-million-year-old crystal that could contain evidence of early life, answering long unanswered questions.

Kathy Benison, a geologist at West Virginia University, shared with NPR the importance of the discovery of the crystal made of salt as microorganisms in the crystal could still be alive.

"There are little cubes of the original liquid from which that salt grew," Benison said to NPR. "And the surprise for us is that we also saw shapes that are consistent with what we would expect from microorganisms. And they could be still surviving within that 830-million-year-old preserved microhabitat."

The salt crystals are called halite, and Benison shared that they were initially found in central Australia.

The research on the crystal, and what has been found within, was published by Benison and the team she was on in the journal Geology.

Video of the crystal shows that there is liquid inside of it, and while it seems unlikely, Benison says the microorganisms could still be alive inside.

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"We know by studying life in modern extreme environments that there are organisms that are able to undergo, like, a survival mode, almost like a hibernation," Benison explained. "They're still alive, but they slow down all of their biological activities."

As of now, Benison suspects that there are microorganisms inside the crystal, and to examine it further, they plan on cracking it open.

"It does sound like a really bad B-movie," she admitted, "but there is a lot of detailed work that's been going on for years to try to figure out how to do that in the safest possible way."

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