Discussion and news about the modern effort to understand the nature of life on Earth, finding planets around other stars, and the search for life elsewhere in the universe

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Windless Blight

It seems appropriate to start off with a post about life in a most unexpected place. Last week this item hit the news; a NASA/JPL funded project has been drilling an 8 inch hole through the West Antarctic ice shelf in order to drop cameras down and see - for the first time - what's going on underneath about 600 feet of the ancient Ross Ice Shelf. They did this at a location with was has to be one of the least promising names - Windless Blight.
Lo and behold, as the cameras went down a Lyssianasid amphipod - that most of us would say looked like the kind of shrimp we happily gobble down - swam into view, and curiously investigated the cable. Although the Antarctic ocean has plenty of life, this is a somewhat different environment, obviously it's cold, there's no sunlight under 600 feet of ice, and a relatively big and complex creature like this (about 3 inches across) has to eat something..

This probably means that as they explore further they will find a lot of stuff going on down there. As we try to understand life on Earth we keep finding that it is very good at filling every available niche, the next challenge is to use this knowledge to help us figure out where else life may be lurking - whether within our solar system or beyond.

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