In 2002, scientists discovered a strange a bacterium called Desulforudis audaxviator hidden in a South African gold mine, 3 kilometers beneath the surface. According to experts, this microorganism feeds off Cosmic Rays (GCRs), and similar ‘alien’ organisms could inhabited planets like Mars or moons like Europa or Enceladus.
Cosmic rays are essentially high-energy particles that move swiftly and uncontrollably through the universe after being flung out of a supernova. This mindboggling microbe has given experts LOTS to talk about.
Biologists from the United States seem to have solved a very important enigma surrounding a microorganism called Desulforudis audaxviator found in 2002 3km deep, inside a South African gold mine.
Astrobiologist Dimitra Atri, who works at the Institute of Cosmic Blue Marbel Sciences, believes the microorganism survived by feeding on cosmic rays.
According to research, the microbe feeds on ionizing radiation, i.e., a type of energy released by atoms and whose food source is the radioactive elements that lie underground. This would explain how the microbe managed to survive at such a depth.
“It really grabbed my attention because it’s completely powered by radioactive substances,” says Atri. “Who’s to say life on other worlds doesn’t do the same thing?”
As it turns out, in outer space, this type of radiation is generated by the phenomenon of supernovae, that is, giant stellar explosions.
The magnetosphere and the planet’s atmosphere act as a shield against ‘cosmic rays,’ but in other celestial bodies with less magnetic activity and atmospheric density, this radiation can be crucial in the evolution of life.
Although the term cosmic ray makes us of a science fiction novel, the term has nothing fictitious at all. We now know that ‘cosmic rays’ continually bombard the upper layers of Earth’s atmosphere and it is there that they transform the chemistry of the ionosphere.
In addition, they also influence cloud formation (in the troposphere) and are part of the natural dose of radiation to which people and living beings in general on Earth are exposed to.
All of this is extremely important when we think about Alien life elsewhere in the cosmos.
According to Dimitra Atri, this constant stream of radiation could be exploited by some sort of alien life form, but only on planets or moons with faint or weak atmospheres and magnetic fields, since both of these two slow down cosmic ray bombardment.
Thus, the importance of these rays would be greater in moons and small worlds like Pluto, Europa, Enceladus and an unknown number of other bodies beyond the solar system where microorganisms may take advantage of cosmic rays in order to stay alive.
For example, Mars is extremely susceptible to cosmic rays since it has a very thin atmosphere, and lacks a magnetic field. According to Atri, GCRs could reach Mars’ surface with enough energy left to power a tiny organism. Atri firmly believes that Mars is the best candidate to host GCR-powered life.
In addition, since this flow of energy is relatively low, and is not comparable to the radiation from stars, the life forms that feed off of it would be smaller, simpler, and also grow slowly.
“The total energy in cosmic rays reaching the surface even of an airless body is tiny compared to the level of sunlight that reaches the surface of the Earth and is used by photosynthesis,” Dr. Chris McKay, a Nasa astrobiologist, told Popular Science.
The next step for researchers is to look at how HIGH Energy X-Rays, originating from a particle accelerator would affect Desulforudis audaxviator. If it is able to survive, it means that we will have a much different criterion when searching for alien life in the cosmos.