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Scientists have also found a truly Backyard Revolution bizarre group of microbes that are able to survive inside of rocks in the harsh geothermal habitat of Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park. One scientist told the press that these tiny organisms, seen dwelling in the pores of rocks in this very acidic environment, are somewhat reminiscent of lichen--and are "pretty weird." Lichens are gray, yellow, or green plants that are commonly observed as flat patches on rocks and other surfaces. It is a very complex organism, composed of both fungi and algae growing together in symbiosis--meaning that the individual organisms need each other in order to survive. Some astronomers think that similar kinds of geothermal environments existed on the planet Mars in the past. The Yellowstone Park discovery may help point the way in the hunt for evidence of either past or present life on Mars.
In addition to the searing-hot environments of sea vents and hot springs, bacteria may also flourish in the bitterly cold and dark conditions that exist under the Antarctic ice sheet. The existence of such tidbits of life in such extremely frigid and Sunless conditions under the Arctic and Antarctic ice, directly indicates the possibility of life dwelling in oceans that are thought to exist beneath similar thick ice-sheets covering some of the icy moons of the outer Solar System--particularly Europa, a moon of the planet Jupiter. Other icy moons that may harbor life-sustaining subsurface oceans include Callisto and Ganymede of Jupiter (the largest moon in our Solar System), and Titan and Enceladus of the planet Saturn. The misty orange moon Titan is a tortured world that sports conditions that are thought to be very much like those that existed on Earth before the emergence of life. Furthermore, the existence of bacteria dwelling inside the ice of frozen lake water indicates that there is a chance that primitive forms of life could also be flourishing inside the ice that covers distant moons like Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, Titan, and Enceladus.
Astrobiology is an new field that is concerned with formulating theories about the nature, distribution, and future of life-forms dwelling in the Universe. Astrobiologists are especially fascinated by extremophiles, because such organisms are able to thrive in environments similar to those known to exist on other planets and moons.Extremophiles found on Earth can inhabit not only wet environments (both hot and cold), but very arid environments as well. Environmental microbiologists have spotted signs of bizarre microbial life flourishing about one foot beneath the rugged landscape of Chile's Atacama Desert--which is certainly one of the driest spots on Earth. Their findings contradict previous ideas that the desert is too dry to support life-forms, and this may influence how scientists look for life in the similarly dry environment that now exists on the planet Mars--although there are unmistakable signs that Mars was probably quite wet in the past.
Some recent research studying the weird world of extremophiles was undertaken by scientists in Japan. Their research involved a group of bacteria including Escherichia coli and Paracoccus denitrificans, that were subjected to conditions of extreme gravity. Paracoccus denitrificans not only managed to survive under these harsh conditions, but also showed robust cellular growth. Such extreme gravitational conditions are generally only found in cosmic environments, such as in the shock waves of supernovae or on very massive stars. Further investigation revealed that the minute size of such cells is requisite for successful growth under conditions of extreme gravity. Some scientists speculate that if life does exist beyond Earth, some of it might be in the form of vent bacteria. Because these microscopic tidbits of life have already demonstrated their remarkable talents for thriving in the harsh environment of Earth's hydrothermal vents, it is possible that similar creatures might also thrive in similar environments on other worlds--for example, on the Jovian moon Europa. Europa's liquid ocean, lurking beneath its surface-ice, may be the result of heating by hydrothermal vents. These hydrothermal vents may, in turn, host bacteria. Scientists have also seen evidence of bacteria dwelling within Antarctic ice, which suggests that they may also dwell within Europa's ice.