"Dark Life" and "Science in the Extreme"

camidon's picture

Okay.
I'm a caver. I like caves. I like crawling in caves. I like mud, water, and the lack of light.

Here are a couple of books that revolve around caving, yet more importantly, around the fringes of biological research. The definition of life, my friends, in the last decade, has begun to shift drastically, right here, on Earth. Who needs other planets? Sure, science fiction writers have been creating life in methane, underwater, in the vaccuum of space, for decades, however, If you want to know where the future of biology lies today, it's within these books.

These two books talk about life in weird places, glacial ice sheets, ocean vents, hydrothermal pools, and my favorite, caves. The coined term is "extremophile life". Life can exist without oxygen, without light, with heat, without heat, in PH's in the negatives, hibernate for decades, centuries, millenia. So far, the only thing in common with all the living discoveries over the last few decades is: <drum roll> water. Perhaps one day thart rule will be broken too.

I was lucky enough to see up close and personal one of these environments in a cave in Mexico. A sulphur cave. With H2S gas bubbling out of springs. With CO2 and CO spiking and dropping O2 levels below 9% When H2SO4 drips from some of the formations (look-up snottites, pictures here: [url]http://www.i-pi.com/~diana/slime/villaluz/[/url] or here [url]http://www.nasa.gov/vision/universe/solarsystem/cave_slime.html[/url]), it burns through clothing in seconds. The sweat from your skin can react with the H2S gas and form the acid on your skin. To enter the cave, a gas mask is needed at a certain point, and at a second point, oxygen tanks and Tyvek suits. Within this cave, life doesn't just survive, it flourishes. Bacteria, insects, bats, fish. There's an entire ecosystem built independently of the outside world, independent of the sun. Reasearch done in this cave is being used in devising equipment to test for life on other planets, namely Mars.

The only thing that really restricts our definition of life, in my mind, is our imagination, and that is where scientists and science fiction writers can come together. There is no future but the present.

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Re:&quot;Dark Life&quot; and &quot;Science in the Extreme&quot;

Sounds cool. Non fiction? Although deep dark caves + sulphuric acid snot = horror story to me.

I'm not a complete idiot -- some parts are missing.

camidon's picture

Re:&quot;Dark Life&quot; and &quot;Science in the Extreme&quot;

Yep, nonfiction.

Horror? Perhaps. That's why this stuff is cool, though. It really is straight out of science fiction and horror genres. Twenty years ago this stuff would have been considered crackpot science.

When the guy who "discovered" that cave in Mexico (1986) brought back its existence to the states, even with pictures, no one believed a cave like that could exist. It took ten years of arm twisting to get the scientists to come down and see the cave for themselves (1996). One of the scientists said, "If anything, Jim, you downplayed the importance of this cave, and even then, we didn't believe you."

The most boundary pushing science of the day is often seen as science fiction, and this stuff falls in that category.

----

Life is a lot like caving: Most of the time you grope around in the dark.

Re:&quot;Dark Life&quot; and &quot;Science in the Extreme&quot;

Sounds like a show I saw on surfing... some guy in California discovered a place with North Shore-type waves and for ten years no one believed him. No one believed there would be waves that big in their own backyard. So he was out there every day in a wetsuit braving the rocks and pounding surf. Then finally some big name surfers came out and tried it, and then he was world famous. Well, surfing-world famous. Then one of the top surfers in the world died while surfing there and the spot became infamous.

Okay caves are not really the same thing, but they reminded me of it. At least there's no corrosive snot in the ocean. They got jellyfish though.

I'm not a complete idiot -- some parts are missing.

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