Nasa finds shrimp under ice

2010-03-15 22:38

Washington - In a surprising discovery about where higher life can thrive, scientists for the first time found a shrimp-like creature and a jellyfish frolicking beneath a massive Antarctic ice sheet.

183m below the ice where no light shines, scientists had figured nothing much more than a few microbes could exist.

That is why a team from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) was surprised when they lowered a video camera to get the first long look at the underbelly of an ice sheet in Antarctica. A curious shrimp-like creature came swimming by and then parked itself on the camera's cable. Scientists also pulled up a tentacle they believe came from a foot-long jellyfish.

"We were operating on the presumption that nothing's there," said Nasa ice scientist Robert Bindschadler, who will be presenting the initial findings and a video at an American Geophysical Union meeting on Wednesday. "It was a shrimp you'd enjoy having on your plate."

Shrimp on Europa?

"We were just gaga over it," he said of the 76mm-long, orange critter starring in their two-minute video. Technically, it's not a shrimp. It's a Lyssianasid amphipod, which is distantly related to shrimp.

The video is likely to inspire experts to rethink what they know about life in harsh environments. And it has scientists musing that if shrimp-like creatures can frolic below 183m of Antarctic ice in subfreezing dark water, what about other hostile places? What about Europa, a frozen moon of Jupiter?

"They are looking at the equivalent of a drop of water in a swimming pool that you would expect nothing to be living in and they found not one animal but two," said biologist Stacy Kim of the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in California, who joined the Nasa team later. "We have no idea what's going on down there."

Microbiologist Cynan Ellis-Evans of the British Antarctic Survey called the finding intriguing.

Oceanic mysteries

"This is a first for the sub-glacial environment with that level of sophistication," Ellis-Evans said. He said there have been findings somewhat similar, showing complex life in retreating ice shelves, but nothing quite directly under the ice like this.

Ellis-Evans said it is possible the creatures swam in from far away and do not live there permanently.

But Kim, who is a co-author of the study, doubts it. The site in West Antarctica is at least 20km from open seas. Bindschadler drilled a 200mm hole and was looking at a tiny amount of water. That means it's unlikely that those two critters swam from great distances and were captured randomly in that small of an area, she said.

Yet scientists were puzzled at what the food source would be for these critters. While some microbes can make their own food out of chemicals in the ocean, complex life like the amphipod can't, Kim said.

So how do they survive? That's the key question, Kim said.

"It's pretty amazing when you find a huge puzzle like that on a planet where we thought we know everything," Kim said.

  • Time Traveller - 2010-03-16 09:37

    Its not a question of is there other life in the universe but where.

  • Rodders - 2010-03-16 10:08

    I Agree with you Time Traveller, it's definitely out there (although whether it's intelligent is another story - of course if it WAS, it sure as heck wouldn't waste it's time visiting Earth) but it is my own personal belief that not only is it out there, it exists within our own Solar System (Europa, Titan, Enceladus and maybe even Mars)!!

  • @ Time Traveller - 2010-03-16 10:31

    And you know that how? Or is it your own belief system - or religion. After many decades of pro-actively searching the universe with bettering technology all the time we have found nothing. Absolutely nothing.

  • @ @ Time Traveller - 2010-03-16 11:19

    If nothing else, it is simply a matter of numbers. If you have any idea of how wast the universe is, containing billions of galaxies which in turn each contain billions of stars, it is extremely arrogant and naive to assume that we are the only life. Especially when you consider that we are discovering more and more places where the right elements for life exist. The fact that we haven't detected anything yet may also be a result of the vastness of the universe. And perhaps also because they do not want us to detect them. I personally believe they are already here and are observing us. Very much like a scientist would observe insects in a pond. Perhaps we are not yet mature enough to meet them...

  • The Spear - 2010-03-16 11:43

    Or when? The universe is very old and the odds that there are life at the same TIME as us is another factor.

  • RaedanWulfe - 2010-03-16 12:26

    Although it is true that it would be statistically improbable for life not to exist elsewhere, making an argument for sentient life having visited our planet is somewhat silly. Given the vastness of our universe, the distances involved would prove a significant hurdle. Popular media have made faster than light travel seem a sure thing in the future, but it would be extremely naive to underestimate the barriers that would need to be overcome (it being theoretically impossible). Detecting life bearing exo-planets may be possible for us within the next few decades, but in this we ourselves would merely be spectators from afar. Given the composition of matter we can expect life to need, we might well be one of the very first sentient species to be looking though. I would advise you to rather go to your local astronomy centre if you are interested, as the amount of crackpots on the subject matter makes you want to box their ears.

  • awsome - 2010-03-16 12:41

    National geographic showed in December 2009 edition of where we have looked in the universe for solar systems which has planets that is similar to ours and which may contain life, and it was only a small fraction of our own galaxy. Now there are hundreds of other galaxies out there. So our research for looking for other life in the universe is like looking at a speck on a single sand grain between all the sand in the world. To me there must be life out there.

  • PeterM - 2010-03-16 13:07

    We have no confirmed proof that life (as we know it) exisits outside our earth. But it would be arrogant to assume that there is no life on other places, especially as we become aware how freely material moves/travels between planets.

  • Reniro - 2010-03-16 13:12

    Very relevant comments from The Spear and Raedan. Awsome - they've only recently started detecting the larger planets in nearby solar systems. Any claims of there not being Earth-like planets (even by national geographic) is preposterous, as we are only now noticing the massive gas giants in our closest neighboring solar systems.

    Also, shrimps in the antarctic? Now I know where to go digging when the local supply runs out!

  • Pharcide@Time Traveller - 2010-03-16 13:48

    And I take it you were there; you saw the life on these galaxies which you are so sure exists? Who is more arrogant and naive than you who make assumptions? Everybody knows there are billions of galaxies. That proves nothing. It is not “simply” about numbers. As if numbers can design or create anything. It’s about evolution which is a load of unproven hogwash. Would you look at a Ferrari or a Space Craft and try to convince anyone that it made itself? Then how is it possible that you can believe that of a human being? We are billions of times more intricately designed and more complex than the most complex machine ever build. We can’t even design a proper robot, how then do you assume that man or life just happened, without intelligent design? I’m not even talking about the earth which is perfectly designed to sustain life, again this happened by itself ??? Did you know that one of the last earthquakes shifted the earth on its axle? By that happening from an earthquake, do you understand how fragile the earth really is? It is not billions and billions of years old, it would have been destroyed billions and billions of years ago. IT IS A DESIGN. IF THERE IS A DESIGN, THERE MUST BE AN INTELLIGENT DESIGNER. I’m not even going to comment on your “perhaps we are not yet mature enough to meet them...” stop watching sci-fi movies and grow up. No life or sign of life has ever been found on another planet or by any telescope. Nada. The beings which you say are watching us, are in fact watching us. Read the Bible, it will tell you all about them.

  • L Savage - 2010-03-16 14:21

    @Pharcide: Your commentary has a few intelligent elements but as a whole is terribly flawed. For a start you criticise (presumably scientific) assumptions and yet your entire world view is based on the assumption that the Bible is a perfect rendition of the word of God. In fact everything about our understanding of God and religion is built on assumptions, and I can guarantee you that some of those assumptions are wrong. The difference between your world view and that of the scientific community is that scientist are generally prepared to revisit assumptions if something doesn't add up. While you are not. For example your adamant and laughably naive insistence about the age of the universe. I am sorry to say this but if your belief in an intelligent designer is contingent on the earth being only a few thousand years old then you can kiss any chance of your belief system surviving goodbye. The earth is billions of years old. Time to accept that. If you cannot reconcile that fact with your religious beliefs then that is your problem.

  • JC - 2010-03-16 14:36

    Hi Pharcide, if you are (genuinely) interested in answers or informed views to your issues, read "The Greatest Show on Earth" by Richard Dawkins - with an open mind. At this stage you are probably a closed minded fundamentalist whose religious mindset does not allow you to think beyond self imposed boundaries. I hope that opens up a new and exciting window for you. Good luck. From a recovering Christian.

  • j - 2010-03-16 17:56

    All I know is that it is becoming more difficult to find intelligent life in South Africa

  • GrantCoffey - 2010-03-25 21:18

    @Pharcide:"Would you look at a Ferrari or a Space Craft and try to convince anyone that it made itself? Then how is it possible that you can believe that of a human being?"1) We know cars are designed because we know what human design is, that is we can test and prove that a human designed them. We are familiar with human design, we have many examples of human design. Human design is testable.2) Many things in nature look designed but are actually not, familiar shaped rocks, enclosures made by insects. These are testable too, to determine if they were designed.3) Non-human design is NOT testable. We have NO examples of non-human design. To assert that we are designed is ignorance. There is no proof, no methodology or standard that we can measure against to say that anything around us has been designed by a non-human. Asserting design is true based on wonder, complexity or personal feelings is not scientific. Its an opinion. Which just so happens to be incorrect. Asserting design based on an inability to understand natural mechanisms is ignorant. I certainly hope you don't apply this level of poor thinking to the rest of your life.

  • bheki - 2010-04-26 08:16

    one person puts an educated assumption and the other argues it with a religious assumption? Everyone ones to be smart pharcide so I guess thats why u came with your theory thinking since it has something to do with god it wont get scrutinized? Take that argument to church budy if u looking for people who share the same views. as for life out there, there is a possibility, I just think our search criteria is the one letting us down, we looking for a farmilier form of life, where as the life out there can be of a very different nature to what we r used to, outer space is a very radioactive place, and we know that life like the one on earth cannot survive radioactivity(unless protected) now why look for a form of life that cannot even survive out there, why send signals that can only be undestood localy. why search for water(water is essential to life on earth not everywhere else)

  • ZION PAY - 2010-04-26 10:40

    Some time ago I read a book on cosmology and the Life forms. It was written by a respected author whose name I cannot recall. As others above have implied there are stars and suns and planets out there ranging in 10 to the infinite zeros. The chances of there being other life is greater than it not being so. An interesting statement was made that silicon is a possibility for the basic building block for life. Ours is carbon. It would be irrational for me to simply reject those statements because I know little on the subject. In fact what we know about the universe as a whole is in fact a drop in the ocean. But what we do know is the origin of the universe to the "initiation" of the big bang. I would be a fool to reject that simply because others do not agree.

  • @j - 2010-10-21 16:58

    Good one!Thanks for cheering up my Thursday afternoon...

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