Lake Vida in East Antarctica is seven times saltier than the sea, 13C below freezing and pitch black. It was a place researchers thought life would never exist — but they were wrong.
A team of Antarctic scientists have found a new breed of strange bacteria that live in a completely sealed lake and have lain undisturbed for 2800 years. The discovery boosts hope of finding life on others planets. Peter Doran, one of the researchers, explains to New Scientist:
"Lake Vida is a model of what happens when you try to freeze a lake solid, and this is the same fate that any lakes on Mars would have gone through as the planet turned colder from a watery past. Any Martian water bodies that did form would have gone through this Vida stage before freezing solid, entombing the evidence of the past ecosystem."
The team had to drill through 27 metres of ice to get to the lake, and then found the previously unknown species in the water samples they collected. It's thought that the bacteria survive on a diet of just hydrogen and oxides of nitrogen, that are available in plentiful supply in the oxygen-free water of the lake.
The next lake the researchers plan to scope out lies a staggering three kilometres below the surface. Regardless of whether they find life there or not, the scientists are still confident that their discovery reflects well on the chances of finding life elsewhere in our solar system. [PNAS via New Scientist]