Scientists discovered what might be the oldest fossils ever found on Earth, shedding light on both the origins of life and the possibility of life on other planets. A team from University College London estimated the fossils were anywhere from 3.77 billion to 4.28 billion years old.

The tiny microfossils were found on the shoreline of the Nastapoka Islands in Quebec, Canada, according to the findings published Wednesday in the journal Nature. The team said they were likely remnants of early bacteria that lived in underwater, hydrothermal vents, where some of Earth’s earliest life forms are thought to have been harbored.

“Understanding how and when life began on Earth helps answer the long-standing questions: Where do we come from? Is there life elsewhere in the universe?" said Matthew Dodd, a biogeochemist at UCL and the team’s lead researcher.

The discovery also changed the view of the timeline of life’s progress. Because Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago and oceans formed about 4.4 billion years ago, if the researchers’ estimates for the fossils’ ages are correct, it would mean there was “an almost instantaneous emergence of life.”

In addition to providing evidence about what early life was like on our own planet, the fossils had important implications for life elsewhere in the solar system. Mars is thought to have contained oceans with similar conditions to those near hydrothermal vents at around the same time the fossils were thriving, living creatures.

“These discoveries demonstrate life developed on Earth at a time when Mars and Earth had liquid water at their surfaces,” said Dodd. “Therefore, we expect to find evidence for past life on Mars 4,000 million years ago, or if not, Earth may have been a special exception.”

Prior to the team’s discovery, the oldest fossils found on Earth were estimated to be about 3.7 billion years old. Those stromatolite fossils, also made of tiny bacterium, were discovered in a remote part of Greenland in 2016.