05/15/2013 06:48 EDT | Updated 05/15/2013 09:24 EDT

Oldest Water On Earth? Canada Copper Mine Offers A Postcard From Dawn Of Life

A team of scientists has uncorked what may be the oldest water on the planet -- a sprawling reservoir buried deep beneath the Canadian Shield.

And that water may even have a thing or two to tell us about the possibility of life on Mars.

“This is the oldest (water) anybody has been able to pull out, and quite frankly, it changes the playing field,” University of Toronto geologist and team co-leader Barbara Sherwood Lollar told the Calgary Herald.

The water trickles through cracks in a copper mine near Timmins, Ont., roughly 2.5 kilometres below the surface, according to LiveScience -- and it may have been there, sealed from the rest of the planet, for as long as 2.7 billion years.

For the researchers who published their findings in the journal, Nature, on Thursday, it may represent a postcard from the very dawn of life on Earth.

Rich in chemicals such as methane and hydrogen, the water appears to be a banquet for microbes -- although life has yet to be detected, according to New Scientist.

Geochemist Greg Holland, who helped analyze the water, suggests that the presence of life in this water could support the theory that life may also be percolating far below the surface of Mars or even other, more distant planets.

The volcanic rock within which the water was found is “very similar to Martian rocks,” he told the Globe and Mail. "When Mars was much more habitable, three to four billion years ago, life there went underground and has carried on living happily ever since.”

Previous to the Canadian discovery, the oldest known underground reservoirs dated back no more than tens of millions of years, Discovery News reports.

"The study shows some of the neon found its way outside of the rock minerals, gradually dissolving into, and accumulating in, fluids in crevices," Lollar told Terra Daily.

"This could only happen in waters that have indeed been cut off from the surface for extremely long time periods."

And those waters may not be as bereft of life as previously thought.

"It's really only in my lifetime that we've begun to understand that the subsurface of our planet isn't just a sterile wasteland. When I was in first-year university we still thought that," Barbara Sherwood Lollar said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"We're understanding that there is deep life, that it's run by a different kind of energy, often. What we're really interested in now is finding out more about the nature of that kind of life."

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