New missions and discoveries on Earth, within our solar system and beyond are bringing us closer than ever to finding alien life on other planets … The first work starts here at home. By studying life that exists in extreme environments, scientists are learning a great deal about how and where to look for it on other planets.
Researchers have found microbes in volcanic calderas, deep ocean vents and arsenic-laden lakes [see “Scientist in a Strange Land,”], and the existence of these “extremophile” life-forms has redefined the concept of habitability on this planet and elsewhere.
Microbiologist Lyle Whyte of McGill University in Montreal found bacteria living at subzero temperatures in a methane-rich spring on Axel Heiberg Island in the Canadian Arctic Ocean. Similar life-forms could also be the source of the recently discovered methane plumes on Mars. “There could be microorganisms in the deep subsurface of Mars that produce the gas,” Whyte says.