Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Alien Safari




By Aussiegirl

You're probably wondering how a photo of the obnoxious co-worker who inhabits the cubicle across from you -- or perhaps a photo of your least favorite relative -- got onto my blog. Actually, it's a photo of a methane ice worm, described below in no. 6, "Strangest habitat".
This short article, which enumerates six kinds of extreme organisms, should be read along with the article, The Hidden Biospheres Of Planet Earth, right below this one. And be sure to click on the link to see pictures of the other "extreme organisms".

Planet Quest: Alien Safari

Welcome to Alien Safari! Explore the "life zones" below to find some of the extreme organisms on our planet.

1. Hottest

Name: Archaea Strain 121
Location: Hot springs at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Description: This microbe belongs to a class called "hyperthermophiles," which live in extremely hot or acidic water. Some species can survive temperatures over 235 degrees Fahrenheit -- hot enough to boil an egg in minutes.
What this means for life in the universe: The discovery of organisms that thrive within a broad range of temperatures opens up new prospects for finding microbial life elsewhere in the universe.

2. Deepest Underground

Name: Bacillus infernus
Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
Description: New species of bacteria have been discovered in caves and gold mines as deep as 2 miles underground. These species are known as thermophiles, or heat lovers, because they thrive in high-temperature environments.
What this means for life in the universe: The study of habitable environments deep below the Earth's surface may hold important clues to finding life on other planets. Many scientists believe that if there is life on Mars it will be found underground.

3. Most Acidic

Name: Acidophiles
Location: Lechuguilla Cave, Carlsbad, New Mexico
Description: These hardy organisms have been found living in a number of caves under conditions of pH of 0.0 -about as acidic as battery acid!
What this means for life in the universe: Some scientists speculate that the clouds of Venus could be a plausible habitat for microbial life. The clouds are highly acidic, but that wouldn't be a problem for acidophiles.

4. Highest Radiation Dose

Name: D. radiodurans
Location: Hanford nuclear waste storage site, Washington state
Description: D. radiodurans has been humorously dubbed "Conan the Bacterium." It's the most radiation-resistant organism known. These guys can withstand 1.5 million rads (units of radiation) - a thousand times more than any other life form on Earth.
What this means for life in the universe: D. radiodurans species beats most of the constraints for survival of life on Mars, including radiation, cold, vacuum and dormancy.

5. Living without Sunlight

Name: Hydrothermal vent communities
Location: First discovered on the Galapagos Rift off the coast of Ecuador
Description: In 1977, scientists first discovered entire communities of organisms flourishing miles below the surface of the ocean, around openings in the ocean floor out of which hot, mineral-rich water erupts. The openingshost a variety of strange and amazing organisms that have adapted to immense pressure, total darkness, and proximity to super-heated water that reaches 662 degrees F.
What this means for life in the universe: There is strong evidence that a liquid ocean exists below the icy surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. If this ocean contains hydrothermal vents as well, scientists speculate, they could be wellsprings of alien life.

6. Strangest Habitat

Name: Methane Ice Worms
Location: Gulf of Mexico, 80 miles off the coast of Louisiana
Description: In 1997, vast colonies of strange, rosy-pink worms 1-2 inches in length were found burrowing in mounds of methane-rich ice erupting from the sea floor in the Gulf of Mexico.
What this means for life in the universe: The discovery of these previously unknown life forms, living in frigid ocean depths far beyond the reach of sunlight, extend our definition of what constitutes a habitable environment. The discovery provides further evidence that life is tough in the extreme.

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