Resilient, stubborn, adaptable


This is why we have to be careful not to teach the textbook. The textbook says that life requires heat, water, and reproduction. And chains of life require vast amounts of these. Yet, here is an example where no heat is available, and life upon life is thriving. Scientists on a research mission sponsored by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have found what could be the U.S. Atlantic Coast’s largest methane cold seep near Virginia. These seeps are regions in the sea floor where fluid rich in compounds like methane flows out at the same temperature as the surrounding ocean water (in contrast to the hot water that seeps from hydrothermal vents).

Seemingly, methane allows life to flourish in otherwise fairly barren deep sea environments. Mussels can survive in seeps through a process that utilizes bacteria in their gills to turn methane into energy. The seep’s surrounding ecosystem also contained sea cucumbers, shrimp and fish, some of which exhibited what the researchers call “unusual behaviors,” though they did not elaborate.

This is really interesting to astrophysics, because we know of several locations in the solar system, in particular the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, where this sort of environment is likely to replicated. And if we assume all life is equally resilient, stubborn, and adaptable, then we could be close to finding life outside Earth.