Everyone knows that without sunlight and air, life can’t survive, right? Wrong. Scientists have long suspected that life may be humming along in some of the world’s least hospitable environments – like underneath the Antarctic ice. Now a group of researchers from Montana State University have the evidence to prove it. Half a mile below the Antarctic ice, they found living microorganisms, which begs the question: could life exist outside of our planet?
Researchers led by John Priscu drilled down into the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and pulled up organisms called Archaea. These organisms survive by converting methane into energy, enabling them to survive where there is no wind or sunlight, buried deep under the ice. In the past there have been bacteria identified in Antarctic ice samples, but there is some concern that these bacteria are from contamination from the drilling. But Archaea proves without question that there is life down there.
The Antarctic ice sheet has characteristics in common with other places in our solar system like Jupiter’s moon Europa or Saturn’s moons Enceladus and Titan,the latter of which is icy cold but has liquid methane lakes that could potentially host life. Space exploration won’t reach Europa until 2020s, so we likely won’t know for certain in the near future, but the research proves that life is far more resilient than we ever believed.