Alien Life Can Survive on Air Alone, New Study in Antarctica Shows

Thursday, 07 December 2017 - 10:10AM
Space
Alien Life
Thursday, 07 December 2017 - 10:10AM
Alien Life Can Survive on Air Alone, New Study in Antarctica Shows
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Image credit: YouTube
When headlines talking about alien life and the Antarctic start appearing in major news sources, we just get a frightening sense of deja vu. 

Whether it's a flashback to H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness, the famous novella about finding starfish-headed monstrosities from another world buried in the Antarctic, or the 1982 John Carpenter film The Thing, a shape-shifting alien horror story also set in the Antarctic, nothing good ever happens with aliens and Antarctica.

Except today.

Today, scientists studying microbe life on the coast of Antarctica announced they have discovered that the dominant species of microbes is able to sustain itself solely on gases found in the atmosphere, meaning that it can survive even in the largest, coldest desert on Earth by consuming nothing but air.

"This new understanding about how life can still exist in physically extreme and nutrient-starved environments like Antarctica opens up the possibility of atmospheric gases supporting life on other planets," said Professor Belinda Ferrari, one of the scientists leading the project.

Apart from enduring low temperatures, the microbes are able to survive on very low amounts of sunlight, water, and carbon in the soil.

All three of these things were previously thought to be essential to sustain life, including on other planets.

These 'extremophiles' (defined as "microorganisms that live in conditions of extreme temperature, acidity, alkalinity, or chemical concentration") give hope for life developing on a wider variety of planets—maybe even in our own solar system.

Brian Cox, the British scientist known for his space programs on BBC, has already said that the chance of finding extraterrestrial life on Europa and Enceladus is high, based on what we know about microbial life.

The temperature in Antarctica can range from 63.5 F (the highest ever recorded for the continent) to -135.8 F (the lowest temperature ever recorded on Earth), but that's less extreme than Mars, which has an average temperature of around -80 degrees, a low of -195, and a high of around 70 degrees.

That's pretty harsh for humans (or rovers), but the real obstacle to life on other planets may not be temperature or even hardcore, ionizing radiation—it could simply be a matter of finding the right gases in the atmosphere.

Let's just hope that the first extraterrestrial life we find looks like our own Antarctic microbes, rather than Michael Crichton's Andromeda Strain.
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Alien Life Can Survive on Air Alone, New Study in Antarctica Shows
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