Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Life in the ice.

Six hundred feet below the Antarctic ice is not somewhere you'd expect to find much of anything. There's no light, it's well below zero (Celsius) and it's only accessible from underneath.

When scientists cut a borehole and lowered in a camera, they were not expecting a shrimp-like creature to land on the cable.

Is there anything bigger down there? They pulled up something they think is a jellyfish tentacle but aside from that and the shrimp, they report nothing more.

It depends on how many shrimp there are. If there are enough to support a predator further up the food chain, then there might well be one. If that predator is numerous enough to support a bigger predator, there might be one of those too. How far up the chain you can get depends on how many are in each level. On the other hand, the shrimp might be the biggest thing there. I still think it would be worth looking further, although I'm not going to do it. Antarctica is even colder than Scotland. Even so it would be interesting to see what strange things lurk in the icy darkness.

Jupiter's moon Europa is encased in water ice. There is considerable speculation that there might be an ocean of water under it. If so, might there be something living there too? Something a bit more interesting than a few bacteria?

If life can exist under six hundred feet of ice, in total darkness, then it is indeed possible. Life (the kind we know) needs liquid water. That's the basic starting point. It can be a sub-zero brine but as long as it's liquid, something can live in it.

If there is life on Europa, it would be very interesting indeed to compare it with life under the Antarctic ice sheets. I would expect it to be very different, as a scientist. If it turned out to be exactly the same, certain people are going to be very pleased and certain other people are going to be very annoyed.

So if there is a trip to Europa in my lifetime, I'll be settling down with popcorn to watch the show.

That trip is not likely to happen. Not while everyone's taxes are going into mad schemes.

Still, it's fun to speculate.

2 comments:

Southern Writer said...

There's a metaphysical theory that all the planets have life on them; we just can't see it. Wrong dimension. You would know more about that than I would. I just can't seem to grasp what the other dimensions are like.

Romulus Crowe said...

There are a lot of multi-dimensional theories floating around mainstream science at the moment. Of course, none consider the possibility that those other dimensions might be inhabited, but even if they did consider it, they wouldn't say anything.

I'll have to look into it...

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