Apr 19, 2019 | Updated: 11:11 AM EDT

Life Underneath Antarctica May One Day Reveal Life On Colder Planets

Apr 28, 2015 01:59 PM EDT


Though it may be hard to imagine life abounding in the frigid tundra that is Earth's Antarctica, that doesn't mean that life cannot exist there. Recent studies looking into the develop and sustainability of life in the frozen wasteland has developed promising results in showing that life may too exist on other exoplanets or exomoons further out in space that may share a similarly cold surface. But in a new study published this week in the journal Nature Communications, researchers with the University of Tennessee Knoxville have discovered a series of underground lakes that could harbor life-pointing ever-more towards the possibility of life far off from what humans can withstand. 

Utilizing a special airborne drone that acts as an electromagnetic mapping sensor system, known simply as 'SkyTEM', a team of microbiologists led by professor Jill Mikucki uncovered the underground lake system whose briny sediments may support microbial life only a few feet below the frigid surface.

"It may change the way people think about the coastal margins of Antarctica" Mikucki says. "We know there is significant saturated sediment below the surface that is likely seeping into the ocean and affecting the productivity of things that feed ocean food webs."

"It lends to the understanding of the flow of nutrients and how that might affect ecosystem health."

Utilizing the airborne sensor in its inaugural flight in Antarctica, the team of researchers were able to fly the helicopter over large areas of rough terrain, producing the most extensive imagery to date. And though they also flew over familiar sites like the Taylor Glacier, the team found that brines within the sediment were responsible for forming extensive aquifers beneath the permafrost. And it's these iron and sulfur-rich environments that are conducive to microbial activity.

Why is this study so important?

While the study may only be an extension of larger research here on Earth, the findings present by the researchers indicate great possibility for alien life existing on similarly frigid planets. And even if aliens can't live underground, the researchers also believe that their discovery may one day lead to the foundation of subsurface habitats for human migration on planets like Mars, as well.

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