There have been numerous findings in the last couple of decades that seem to drastically change the way we look at life and its origin. Not so long ago, we believed that life could only exist on Earth, we thought that bacteria could not survive in Space, and we believed that at a certain depth, life could not thrive. Well, it turns out that we were very wrong.
An international team of researchers has gathered enough evidence to determine that life could thrive 20 kilometers below Earth’s surface. Specifically, they have found traces of bacteria living at that depth and is believed to be the deepest ever evidence of bacteria found so far.
At the Krubera-Voronya cave, the deepest cave in the world whose dangerous tunnels extend to a length of 13,432 meters and at a depth of 2197, researchers have found a beetle adapted to life underground.
“Most studies report microbial life in the crust to no deeper than a few kilometers — just a mile or so,” said Philippa Stoddard, an undergraduate in Yale University’s geology and geophysics department. “Assuming our data are correct, this greatly expands our understanding of the extent of the Earth’s biosphere.”
“I think that results like ours are very encouraging for the possibility of life on other planets,” said Stoddard. “The more we learn about extreme environments on our own planet, the more we realize how resilient life is.”
What does this mean for planetary science? What does this mean for Mars specifically? If we haven’t found traces of life on the red planet’s surface, is it possible that just like on Earth, there could be life beneath the surface of our Cosmic neighbor?
The team of researchers presented their findings at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America. According to experts, their studies lasted for two decades in which they analysed dozens of samples on Lopez Island in northwest Washington which is an outcrop that has traces of aragonite, pushed to the surface by geological processes, found to contain strange levels of a lightweight version of the element carbon. Experts state that the carbon signature is normally produced by microbes that “excrete” the carbon-containing compound methane.
Scientists believe that life forms, once buried deep in the Earth’s crust altered the ancient aragonite’s carbon signature and we are seeing this today in the analysis.
This shows that life can flourish in places where we thought it isn’t possible. For microbes to survive so far underground, they would have had to withstand extreme temperatures and pressure.
This means that there is a large possibility, that just like on Earth, microbes and life could have developed on planets like Mars, or moons in our solar system like Europa or Enceladus the sixth-largest moon of Saturn, which has a large subsurface ocean of liquid water.
It is only a matter of time until we find that life, developed somewhere else in our Solar System.