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Scientists: Life Can Thrive in Most Extreme Environments


A hydrothermal vent emits jet-black smoke. This material is usually made of minerals that solidify and form chimneys on the sea floor. However, hydrogen can also be a byproduct of vents. (Photo courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

If microbes can live in the most extreme regions on Earth, scientists say it is quite possible they can live on other celestial bodies.

In a recently published study, researchers from Washington State University say bacteria, found in the hyper-arid soil of Chile's Atacama Desert, can live dormant for decades, patiently waiting for very rare rainfalls.

Once the rain arrives, they quickly reanimate and produce offspring. Since Mars once had flowing water, scientists say it is possible that similar microorganisms may be waiting there for the next opportunity to continue life.

But other celestial bodies within our solar system, such as Saturn's icy moon Enceladus, have water now, so they too may harbor extraterrestrial life.

Studying life around deep-sea hydrothermal vents near Japan's island of Okinawa, microbiologists led by a team from the University of Vienna found that certain microbes thrive in conditions similar to those on Enceladus.

The hardiest of the microbes were able to reproduce even in the presence of extremely unfriendly chemicals, such as ammonia and carbon monoxide.

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