Looking Out for Life

Although Curiosity has not found evidence of life on Mars, NASA announced yesterday that its suite of dirt analyzers works perfectly. Meanwhile new discoveries on Earth and the planet Mercury continue to imply the possibility of extraterrestrial life. On ERV, Abbie Smith marvels at the extremophile bacteria that have been locked under an Antarctic ice sheet for the last 2800 years, “happily (but slowly!) generating proteins in their hypersaline, super cold, no oxygen, ton of iron environment!” And though Smith would love to work in Antarctica, she says it “might be more fun to go to Europa with a shovel.” On Starts With a Bang, Ethan Siegel explains the counterintuitive presence of water ice on Mercury, writing “any rocky planet with no atmosphere and a sufficiently small axial tilt should have permanently shadowed craters at its poles, which will contain ices and other frozen materials common to that Solar System.” Which gives life on Mercury, approximately, a snowball’s chance in hell.


The Melting Snowball Effect

A new look at twenty years worth of research shows that polar ice is in fact melting, and raising sea levels, faster than anticipated. Greg Laden writes “Greenland is losing ice about 500% faster now than it was in the early 1990s, while Antarctica is losing ice at about the same rate.” Altogether, ice melt since 1992 “has contributed to about 0.44 inches of sea level rise.” On Stoat, William M. Connolley says “Still – that adds up to 0.6 mm/yr. So it will have to grow if its to become interesting by 2100.” With ice-bound methane poised to mingle with carbon dioxide and accelerate global warming, interesting is a definite possibility. Scientists estimate that sea levels would rise by 200 feet if Antarctica thawed entirely. Not for several millennia, but an industrialist can dream.