Strange life here hints at life on other planets
By Bert Raynes, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: February 27, 2013
People from Planet Earth look for evidence of life — past or present — on Mars. While they are at it, they search for signs elsewhere in our, or any, universe.
People from Planet Earth also continue to search for life forms in Earth’s most extreme environments; a lot of such investigations take place in Yellowstone’s thermal pools.
Parenthetically, about a hundred years ago a serious search for intelligent life on Earth was launched.It has not been heard from in many decades.
A recent discovery in one of the most remote lakes of Antarctica of a community of bacteria extends our knowledge of microbial processes in subzero temperatures. Lake Vida is mostly frozen, contains no oxygen, possesses the highest nitrous oxide levels of any natural body of water on Earth. In Lake Vida a briny liquid percolates. It’s approximately six times saltier than seawater, and its average temperature is minus 8 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet life exists in Lake Vida.
This is a cold, isolated habitat. A surprisingly diverse and abundant variety of bacteria were discovered at 65 feet below the icy surface. The researchers report the habitat receives no energy from the sun, which is interesting. In any case it is dark there, and Lake Vida has been isolated from outside influences for more than 3,000 years.
It is postulated that chemical reactions between the brine and underlying iron-rich lake sediments generate nitrous oxide and molecular hydrogen. Hydrogen may be the energy source that supports the diverse microbial life in this dark, cold environment.
The particular people from Earth who are doing this research, some of whom are with NASA, point out their work may be “the best analog for possible ecosystems in the subsurface water of Saturn’s moon Enceladus and Jupiter’s moon Europa.”
Findings and speculation like these from NASA suggest that some intelligent life on Earth may indeed exist, if only in isolated habitats.
The word — or the concept of — sequestration is much in the news right now in these United States. As of this moment (evening of Feb. 23) it appears we’re all going to find out just what sequestration means with respect to government operations. Or this looming fiscal crisis will be averted at the last moment. Then we’ll all be expected to heap praise on our valiant congressional representatives for their heroic stewardship and politics for the good of the country.
It matters naught to anyone, but “sequestration” doesn’t sound correct to my inner ear. To that annoying little organ, wherever it is, sequestration would mean that federal funds would be set aside and held until a later date and then expended.
What’s legislated now removes the funds — period. They disappear. Gone. Cut.
Even should these withheld monies be reinstated, many lost services cannot be returned. With obvious intent, funding cuts that will be obvious and annoying to a significant percentage of our population will be made. Reduction in national parks services, campgrounds, museums; closing certain bureaucratic offices; interruption of certain research projects; and potentially, an economic slowdown leading to another serious recession. You’ve read lots of scenarios.
Calling things “cutbacks” and not “sequestration” might satisfy the inner ear, but it certainly changes nothing of substance. Remarking that it’s a helluva way to run a country doesn’t change anything. Kicking the whole mess down the road, as they say and often do, doesn’t work for long. Lots of folks are hoping for a last-minute resolution and some kind of, well, compromise.
Have to admit a fascination of sorts attends this drama. But it’s still a helluva way to run a railroad.
Field Notes: Here comes March, arriving ... however it wants to. Can’t say winter 2012-13 isn’t different.
Joe Burke marvels at the colors being displayed in various of our willows. A “mystery man” noticed his first junco today; juncoes are moving about now. Flocks of rosy-finches scout the valley floor, as do groups and flocks of Bohemian waxwings. Chickadees freely vocalize. Birds are getting into breeding plumage, sprucing up.
On Feb. 13, Wendy Morgan had a pygmy owl outside her window and some common redpolls. Also that day, Jerry Longobardi found there’s been an Eastern blue jay at the Box K Ranch up the Greys River for some weeks. Jerry also saw nine moose north of the Wilson bridge.
The following were reported at the Jackson Hole Bird and Nature Club: dusky grouse at 9,500 feet (Beverly Boynton). On the valley floor, evening grosbeaks, redpolls, tree sparrows, saw-whet owl, Harris’ sparrows, pine grosbeaks, downy woodpecker and numerous house finches and chickadees. Magpies are courting.
Moose Day on Saturday was blustery, snowy with poor visibility. Seems to be a tradition. The small party of Mary Lohuis and me once again found no moose in our designated area. Here’s hoping other folks did.
© Bert Raynes 2013
Bert Raynes writes weekly on whatever suits his fancy with a dash of news on nature and its many ways.