Hypoliths are photosynthetic bacteria that inhabit the desert. Despite the Namib desert in Namibia being one of the most extreme environments on Earth, hypoliths thrive under quartz rock under these harsh conditions. This desert can go years without rain and it is subject to constant solar radiation and scorching heat. With very little water and no trees or shrubs in sight, the fact that this desert has life at all is amazing. Living under the rocks protects the hypoliths from ultraviolet radiation and wind scouring. The rocks are also translucent, allowing light to penetrate, and trap moisture. What hypoliths and other extremophiles can tell us is where to look and where not to look for life on other planets. Mars may be cold, but it features a desert environment that is also subject to brutal solar radiation. Therefore, Mars may be a good place to look for bacterial life.
Picture from Xochitl Garcia
We may not find quartz rock on Mars, but if we wanted to find life, we may look for areas in which only a certain amount of light can infiltrate, which would create hospitable conditions for life. Although it’s probably best not to interfere with the natural environments of other planets, it would be interesting to see if hypoliths or other extremophiles would be able to survive on Mars or other planets if we were to deposit colonies there. Out of anything we have here on Earth, extremophiles give us the most insight about the possibility of extraterrestrial life, so I hope further research into them continues to teach us more about what may be out there in our expansive universe.
The six most common elements found in living organisms on Earth are carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfur, oxygen, and phosphorus. Recently, astronomers have been attempting to look more into the origins of phosphorus in the universe, and through observations of the Crab Nebula, they found that the amount and distribution of phosphorus in the Milky Way galaxy may be more random than indicated by our computer models of how phosphorus is created in supernovae. This means that some parts of the galaxy with exoplanets that would otherwise be hospitable environments for life may not have enough phosphorus to support life. In fact, some researchers have described it as pure luck that meteorites were able to carry just enough phosphorus bearing minerals that were reactive enough to engage in biological processes.
However, astronomers admit that more research of other supernovae remnants in the universe still needs to be done, as the phosphorus that has been measured in the Crab Nebula may not be representative of our vast universe. Still, it’s hard not to feel a little disappointed that the probability of life outside Earth may be less likely than the scientific community previously believed. With that said, I look forward to further research, as there’s no telling what we’ll find tomorrow, a year from now, 50 years from now, etc. I still believe the chance that at least one other planet in our seemingly endless universe is home to some form of life is far more likely than not. What I’m most shocked about is that our computer models of the universe may not be completely accurate, so I’m curious to know what else we will find that we were incorrect about through more observations of our universe.
Phosphorus May Be More Rare in Universe than Previously Thought
Why Extraterrestrial Life May Be More Unlikely Than Scientists Thought