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What Does 1-Billion-Year-Old Water Taste Like?

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It's summer, and as much as I love the sunshine, I am doing my best to stay hydrated. Besides central air conditioning, a cool glass of water is my seasonal BFF. A newly discovered water source is making me appreciate those glasses of water in a whole new way.

A mile and a half below the Earth's surface, in a zinc and copper mine in Canada, are pockets of water that have been trapped, unchanged for at least 1 billion and perhaps even 2.6 billion years without being touched.

Even though the prospect was not at all appetizing, scientist Barbara Sherwood Lollar gave the water a taste. What did she think about the ancient H2O? She said, "It tastes terrible. What jumps out at you first is the saltiness. ... It has the consistency of a very light maple syrup. It doesn’t have color when it comes out, but as soon as it comes into contact with oxygen, it turns an orangy color because the minerals in it begin to form." Lollar also said that it was way saltier than seawater.

She said that the saltier the water, the older it is. So tasting the water is a quick-and-dirty way of seeing which water is the oldest. Scientists are further able to determine how old water is by analyzing the isotopes of natural gases that are present in the water. Studying the water may yield new data about the Earth in its earlier stages, including, perhaps, billion-year-old forms of life.

Lollar was accompanied by student researchers during the study, and she was quick to note that she did not let them taste the water.

[Related: Study Into Billion-Year-Old Water]

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