They may look like invaders from a parallel dimension bent on destroying humankind, but these microbial worms may be the closest thing we have on our planet to an organism from another planet. The creatures measure less than a millimeter across, but exist in such extreme environments that some scientists have suggested similar creatures existing in deep methane rich oceans such as those suspected to be on Titan.
Charles Fisher, in 1997 first discovered the creatures and suggested they were not entirely like the other creatures found on the seabed which was once thought to be a carbon copy of one small region throughout. And while the creature is not itself a microorganism, it is certainly very small. Small enough to have developed from microbes without requiring the complexity of a larger organism. As such, the organism is actually quite capable of surviving in freezing and hostile temperatures.
And the organism’s ability to withstand cold and consume a diet almost entirely devoid of the usual components of life suggest an incredible aptitude seen rarely in more complex organisms to rely on comparably little more than some incredibly simple and ubiquitous components in space. And even these are still fragile in comparison to the 2008 discovery of Tun, a state at least one species found on Earth is capable of entering by which it can freeze and even die in the vacuum of space only to return to a normal state as it reaches a more pressurized environment. If the state of tun were to be mixed with the ice worms’ ability to consume once considered poisonous materials, we already have a working model for a microbe that could be wandering through space still living.
After the Hayabusa Space Probe’s discovery of a fairly convincing sample of particle material gathered from space while visiting a nearby asteroid have already raised many questions about the possibility of finding microbes in space. And with a mission set to investigate the possibility on Mars being announced just this week, what will we find in the future?
On Mars, life would likely need to be able to survive in extremely cold conditions without oxygen. One such creature known as Loricifera has already been found as of April 7th of this year. And they would likely have to be able to survive in very dry climates as well. While the surface of Mars may contain water in its solid form, the planet is thought to be incredibly dry due to the lack of heat to let the ice turn to water. The surface of Mars can reach up to 80 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, but can fall to negative 200 degrees in winter and at the poles. As such, any creatures living on the planet may actually require the ability to hibernate or go into a torpid state to survive the harsh winters. Anything on Mars would have to be extremely resilient to say the least. Fortunately, life from what we can tell is extremely resilient.