Science

What Earth's extreme life teaches us about aliens

We've found life in some of the hottest, coldest, and most acidic places on Earth. What does that mean for finding ET?

Life on Earth can get pretty extreme.

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Scientists have found organisms in some of the hottest, coldest, saltiest, most acidic or pressurized places in the world.

Microbes thrive in lakes deep underneath ice sheets or within tiny brine channels in the ice.

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Brine shrimp, algae, and other living things thrive in Utah’s Great Salt Lake, parts of which are ten times saltier than the ocean.

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Microbes in the Atacama Desert — one of the driest places on Earth and a great analogue for Mars — hitch rides on dust particles and manage to thrive.

Tube worms, crabs, worms, and more live at hydrothermal vents on the ocean’s floor, where it’s too deep for light to penetrate and too hot for most living things.

So what does that mean for life on other worlds?

Although Mars’s environment is much harsher than the Atacama Desert, microbes could have thrived in its more habitable past.

There could be hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, which is covered by an icy shell.

Within the icy shells of Enceladus or Jupiter’s moon Europa, there could be spots where liquid water pools or enough organic molecules are present to support life.

Eric Collins

Unfortunately, we won’t know until we can get up close to these promising worlds.

Check out what NASA and other space agencies have in store for the next decade.

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