The Cave of the Crystals, which is buried 800 meters (2,625 feet) underground in Mexico’s Naica Mine, should be on everyone’s bucket list. There are enormous gypsum crystals within this Narnia-like opening, the largest of which is 12 meters (39 feet) long and weighs 55 tonnes (61 tons).
According to BBC News, scientists have discovered something else that has been lurking for a very, very long time within this swelteringly hot cave – something that may completely change our understanding of biology. That’s right: a new type of microbial life has been discovered that is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.
The microbes, which are trapped in fluid inclusions within the crystals, are estimated to be up to 50,000 years old. They appear to be surviving on manganese, iron, and other metallic elements, which they use to produce the necessary nutrients.
To ensure that they were not simply dead copies of the originals, the researchers extracted them from the crystals and successfully revived them in a laboratory.
It should be noted that air temperatures in the Cave of the Crystals tend to hover around 58°C (136°F) with humidity levels of up to 99 percent. Without proper protection, the average person can only stay awake for about ten minutes.
Make no mistake: these little critters are extremophiles, able to not only survive but thrive in these abysmal conditions.
This is all the information the public and press are currently permitted to receive, according to the team of NASA microbiologists who discovered them. The space agency is currently withholding all data, pending peer review, which we’re sure will fuel some wild conspiracy theories.
Penelope Boston, the director of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, described the microbes as “super life” when they announced their remarkable discovery at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Based on the information we already have, we shouldn’t be surprised by this discovery. Extremophiles have been discovered all over the world, including deep-sea vents, acidic hot springs, volcanic craters, and even the crust itself.
As they say, life finds a way. We are literally one species among trillions, and just because we cannot thrive in any environment we choose does not imply that the same principle applies to the world of microbiology.
These ancient, newly discovered microbes within the Cave of the Crystals may appear strange, but extremophiles are more common than we realize. In fact, when compared to the majority of life on this pale, blue dot, humans, not microbes, are the most “alien.”