Looking up at the night sky, it seems impossible life could survive on distant planets with harsh atmospheres and desolate landscapes. But every year scientists discover unique life forms in some of the most inhospitable environments on Earth. These discoveries make alien life, even in our own solar system, a possibility. These are five of the most bizarre places where life was discovered.
50,000-Year-Old Microbes, Cave of Crystals Naica, Mexico
Scientists discovered the dormant microbes trapped inside giant crystals back in 2008 and 2009. They “woke up” the genetically unique life forms in cultures. It’s not the first time scientists revived sleeping organisms from thousands of years ago. In the past, scientists claimed to revive life from millions of years ago from ice, salt, and even Jurassic Park style amber. The microbes from the Naica cave thrive on iron and sulfur, amongst other chemicals, which are rampant inside the crystal forms.
Chemolithotrophs, Lake Willhans, Antarctica
Scientists bore a hole into the ice of Antarctica for a full day before reaching the hidden lake beneath the ice. They added dye that causes DNA to glow to the water and watched the lake illuminate. The organisms they found survive on chemical compounds plentiful even in that harsh environment, like iron and sulfur.
Bone eating worms, Gulf of Mexico
The discovery of this bizarre life form is almost as weird as the actual life form. Organisms who live on the ocean floor can’t be picky with food sources. Some adapted to survive for months or even years without a meal. Scientists were curious about what the dwellers of the dark would do when presented with an unfamiliar food source. So, they dropped freshwater alligator carcasses to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. The result? Scavengers ate them. Once all that remained of the alligators was the skeleton, scientists noticed brown fuzz growing on the bones. Turns out the fuzz was lots of tiny bone eating worms, who consumed the last remaining bits of the alligator.
Electricity eating microbes, Black Hills of South Dakota
Two scientists examined old rust water from an abandoned gold mine in South Dakota, searching for life. They discovered microbes who consume electrons by direct electron transfer. Instead of eating organic matter for energy, they transfer electrons through their membranes. These discoveries show how life may exist on other planets without organic matter on their surface. Even Mars has iron rich water flowing beneath the surface. A potential environment where microbes like these might live.
Nematode worms, TauTona mines, South Africa
Nematodes are hardy animals who thrive in diverse conditions everywhere from Antarctica to inside the human body. Over two miles beneath the surface, in gold mines that get up to 118 ?, scientists discovered a new species of worm living in water estimated to be 3,000-12,000 years old. The worm lives on bacterial chains called biofilm that cover the surfaces of the rocks in the mine. They’re adapted to thrive in the dark, hot conditions underground. These worms may be the deepest dwelling creatures on earth.