“Alien Life on Earth” –NASA Announces Discovery of Bizarre 50,000 Year-Old Life Trapped in a Crystal Cave System–“Both Fairyland and Hell” (VIDEO)

 

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We live on an alien world. There’s an entire hidden part of planet beneath the surface that we don’t think about. Earth's rock fracture habitat goes down to 5 kilometers, maybe down to 10, and is thoroughly infested with life forms that are dramatically different from the stuff on the surface. So different, in fact, that NASA uses these extreme lifeforms as a guide to its exploration of other worlds in the solar system. Surface life has photosynthesis, but subsurface only a tiny fraction of that energy trickles down. Not a lot of organisms are using organic material, they are processing minerals such as iron and manganese from the rock they live in and could be a model for life on Mars, which gets the most headlines, but Saturn’s moons Enceledus and Titan are both prime candidates, as is Jupiter’s Europa. Even possible cave life on the Moon.


In a Mexican cave system so beautiful and hot that it is called both Fairyland and hell, NASA scientists have discovered life trapped in crystals that could be 50,000 years old. The bizarre and ancient microbes were found dormant in caves in Naica, Mexico, and were able to exist by living on minerals such as iron and manganese, said Penny Boston, head of NASA's Astrobiology Institute. NASA wouldn't allow Boston to share her work for outside review before Friday's announcement.

 

 

Life is like an entropy exporting machine, Boston said in an interview with Wired, it keeps thermodynamics contained. Life takes energy from one form or another from the environment and uses it to make structure. But the details of the chemistry may or may not resemble us. There may be life that lives on very different timescales, organisms that are very slow in their growth patterns.

"It's super life," said Boston, who presented the discovery Friday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Boston.]The 40 different strains of microbes and even some viruses — are so odd that their nearest relatives are 10 percent different genetically. That makes their closest relative about as far away as humans are from mushrooms, Boston said. If confirmed, the find is yet another example of how microbes can survive in extremely punishing conditions on Earth. "Every new piece of information we get about the planet seems to point to greater and greater habitability," Boston said. It just seems more and more likely we'll find life beyond Earth.

The image below provided by Boston shows a red wall in a cave with butterfly crystal. In a Mexican cave system so beautiful and hot that it is called both Fairyland and hell, scientists have discovered life trapped in crystals that could be 50,000 years old.

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Though it was presented at a science conference and was the result of nine years of work, the findings haven't yet been published in a scientific journal and haven't been peer reviewed. Boston planned more genetic tests for the microbes she revived both in the lab and on site.

The Naica caves — an abandoned lead and zinc mine — are half a mile (800 meters) deep. Before drilling occurred by a mine company, the mines had been completely cut off from the outside world. Some were as vast as cathedrals, with crystals lining the iron walls. They were also so hot that scientists had to don cheap versions of space suits — to prevent contamination with outside life — and had ice packs all over their bodies.

Boston said the team could only work about 20 minutes at a time before ducking to a "cool" room that was about 100 degrees (38 Celsius).

The age of the Naica microbes was determined by outside experts who looked at where the microbes were located in the crystals and how fast those crystals grow.

About future cave expeditions Boston said that one of her favorite sites is in Saudi Arabia. "You’re in this big sand desert region they call the Empty Quarter. Yet there are caves there that contain snippets of life, these dive-able pools with all sorts of life that hasn’t seen the surface for years and years. The geochemistry, the mineralogy, is staggering. You can be in a wonderland with genuine scientific value, and it is a largely unexplored realm."

The Daily Galaxy via NASA Astrobiology, AP, and US News and Wired

Image credit top of page: With thanks to PBS

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