The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has been increasingly active lately. As India grows in financial and industrial prowess, so does its space agency. Late last year the nation sent a probe crashing into the moon. Now the ISRO is claiming an even wilder space discovery that might challenge people's preconceptions about extraterrestrial life.
India claims to have found three different species of bacteria living in the Earth's very thin upper atmosphere, at heights of 40 km above the Earth's surface (approximately 24.8 miles). Many scientists are hailing the bacteria as extraterrestrial as they exist in a foreign climate so far from Earth. Regardless of their designation, if their presence is verified, they would mark a new era in the study of life in extreme environments.
The bacteria colonies would have to deal with conditions deadly to terrestrial bacteria in order to survive at such heights. The UV rays at that height, outside much of the atmospheric protective layer, would be intense enough alone to kill the bacteria. In addition, they would have to deal with extreme temperatures, sparse air particles, and lack of organic matter.
A lively debate is occurring as well over the origins of the bacteria. Some scientists are arguing they originated on Earth, being tossed into the air by volcanic eruptions or other events. Others are arguing that they could have arrived from space.
The first species has been named Bacillus Isronensis, in honor of the ISRO, while the second species has been named Bacillus Aryabhata, in honor of the ancient Indian astronomer Aryabhata. The third is named Janibacter Hoylei in honor of astrophysicist Fred Hoyle.
The bacteria were discovered by scientific instruments aboard an ISRO high-altitude balloon, launched from the National Balloon Facility in Hyderabad. The 459-kg scientific payload began collecting atmospheric samples at 20 km and traveled up to 41 km, around where the bacteria were found. Analysis of the samples occurred at the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad and the National Center for Cell Science (NCCS), Pune.
The announcement was not the first claim of extraterrestrial life from a space organization. Earlier this year, NASA announced finding signs of life on Mars when the Phoenix lander discovered that the Martian atmosphere contained significant levels of methane. On Earth, the primary source of methane is living organisms.
With discoveries like this new one, it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility that bacteria could survive on a place like Mars, even if its chemistry was too extreme for most life on Earth.
quote: there is no grounds or basis for claiming that because life CAN exist in these environments that it necessarily DOES live in similar environments all over the universe.
quote: Maybe the chance of life being created is so astronomically small that the Earth really is the only place in the universe where it has happened, who knows? You can't conclude something based on numbers if your missing part of the calculation and you are.
quote: I just find it interesting that we are so gung-ho about space exploration, when we haven't even really explored the very depths of our own oceans.
quote: There is so many undiscovered life forms there. I can only imagine just how 'extreme' it must be at the very bottom of the deepest oceans on earth.
quote: while they have to deal with chemicals like sulfur
quote: Technically if the bacteria don't live on the ground, then they're not "of the earth", i.e. extra-terrestrial.
quote: You do know that OF means FROM and not ON, right? Just as our rovers on Mars are "of the earth" but not on the earth.
quote: If, on the other hand, the DNA of the bacteria was genetically dissimilar to earth life, say it didn't use ATCG nucleotides and wasn't right-chiral, THEN they could say the bacteria came from outer space.
quote: Or, the bacteria may have just evolved separately than other life on Earth. Just because it's different than what we have found so far on Earth, doesn't mean it isn't from Earth.