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Rock-Based Life

Virtually all biology textbooks insist that all terrestrial life ultimately depends upon sunlight for its survival. The ecosystems clustered around the deep-sea vents and the bacteria found in deep aquifers demonstrate that the sun is not essential to life -- chemical energy does just fine.

In fact, the domain of chemosynthetic life has now been extended to a Romanian cave that has apparently been almost completely sealed off from surface influences for 5.5 million years. Air does leak in through tiny cracks, and water partially fills the cave. What is most remarkable in this sunless, sealed ecosystem is its biodiversity: 48 animal species, including 33 brand-new species. The roster includes isopods, a millipede, a centipede, a water scorpion, and a leech. Of course, bacteria and fungi thrive there, too.

In contrast to unsealed caves, where insects, bats, and other sources of food filter in from the surface, life in the Romanian cave seems to derive entirely from hydrogen sulfide present in the cave's rocks. This compound is consumed by microorganisms, which are then grazed by cave occupants higher up the food chain. A NASA scientist has called Movile cave a "Mars analog site." And indeed it might be, for Mars has plenty of rocks and subsurface water.

(Skinrud, E.; "Romanian Cave Contains Novel Ecosystem," Science News, 149: 405, 1996)

Comments. Fluid-filled cracks and pores extend miles down below the earth's surface. It would be surprising if novel ecosystems do not exist there, too. The ice-sealed Antarctic lakes (see next item under GEOLOGY) may also surprise biologists. As for outer space -- a realm pulsing with energies of many kinds -- we can imagine that matter has assumed many unfamiliar forms, some of which we might call "life."

From Science Frontiers #107, SEP-OCT 1996. 1996-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:

Quotes

  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987