Extremophiles. An extremophile is an organism that is adapted to living in conditions of extreme temperature, pressure or chemical concentration. This is not a theory. One example is the caves of Villa Cruz in Mexico. In order to explore the cave many safeguards are necessary due to the extremely low levels of oxygen and dangerous levels of Hydrosulfide gas. In addition there are Snotites: Snot looking formations that appear on the caves ceiling a drip Sulfuric Acid. There is a large stream of water that flows through this cave but it is not H2O but a white colored stream of acid. What is more perplexing is that there are literally thousands of fish that live in these waters swimming vigorously, growing fully, and completely happy. This is just one instance of extremophiles. They can be found all over the world from a mere organism to a fish and other walks of life. Such as the Tardigrade.
The Tardigrade is able to survive in extreme environments that would kill any other animal Environments such as: temperature-from being heated to 151 Celsius to chilled to -200 Celsius, Pressure-both the low pressure of a vacuum & 1200 times the normal atmosphere, Dehydration-surviving a dry state for up to ten years, Radiation-1000 times as much radiation as any other animal although unable to auto repair damage from UV radiation, Environmental Toxins-the Tardigrade enters a cryptobiotic state in response (basically goes dormant),and finally and most interesting-The Tardigrade is able to survive in space. They can survive the vacuum of space as well as full exposure to solar radiation. They were being studied in 2007 and went into low Earth orbit on the FOTON-M3 mission and in 2011 the Italians sent the Tardigrade to space along with other extremophiles. The conclusion was that microgravity and cosmic radiation did not significantly affect their survival.
Is it any wonder that NASA & the ESA are enamored with Tardigrades? The Tardigrades besides possibly holding the key to surviving the extremes of space are believed to be alien in origin. So then is it that big of a leap to assume that aliens do not represent humans?
Perhaps there really isn’t an assumption of water and oxygen equals life. If there were it isn’t supported by the evidence and that isn’t very scientific. The evidence states that life can survive almost anywhere and almost all conditions, and with the many methane planets throughout the galaxy, perhaps we need to start our search there! To further add emphasis that suggestion, consider the Methanogens.
Methanogens are a microorganism that is known to produce methane. They are found in swamps (responsible for swamp gas), the digestive tracts of large animals (sorry-including humans), and elsewhere such as deep in the Earth’s crust. FYI-Methanogens do not use oxygen and in fact oxygen inhibits their growth.
In that vein, another life form that does not require oxygen and in fact has gained the listing of world’s toughest bacteria by Guinness, is the Deinococcus radiodurans. This bacteria is capable of surviving cold, dehydration, vacuum, and acid. Investigation has shown that Nitric Oxide plays a large role in its repair from radiation. NASA is aware of these properties and performed a 2006 experiment which has led to medicinal research that is providing much data.
To the question of is there life out there – most likely. Does it breathe oxygen – some yes, some no. Given how rare it is to find a planet where oxygen is plentiful or water is abundant, it might be easier to just guess. Given the evidence, yes is a good bet.