How 'Flammable Ice' Might Lead To Alien Life Discovery

Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe. I really do. With the near daily reports of new evidence that Mars was once warm and wet and NASA's steady progress toward life-seeking missions to icy moons like Enceladus and Europa, our civilization feels eternally stuck on the cusp of first contact. The hunt for life beyond our planet is a classic case of two steps forward, one step back. Given the vast scope of our universe, it seems inevitable that we will eventually discover evidence of alien life. But will it come in our lifetimes? And if it does, what form will that alien life take? Space is a weird place, and weird environments tend to spawn even weirder forms of life.

For that reason, astrobiologists spend most of their time examining the most extreme environments here on Earth in an effort to extrapolate potential habitats in the universe beyond. One such environment was recently uncovered in a new study of a substance known as "flammable ice". Researchers discovered tiny bubbles of air within the substance, and within those air bubbles: microscopic life! These exciting new findings came from analysis of data collected by Meiji University's Professor Ryo Matsumoto.

Life finds a way

"Flammable ice" is a colloquial name for methane hydrate, a combustible substance that forms when methane gas becomes trapped inside solid water ice. The fact that bacteria were able to survive in such a novel and hostile environment may expand scientists' understanding of the minimum requirements for life processes, a boon to astrobiology. Dr. Stephen Bowden at the University of Aberdeen said that these findings "showed that even under near-freezing temperatures, at extremely high pressures, with only heavy oil and saltwater for food sources, life was flourishing and leaving its mark." Scientists speculate that the new discovery proves even icy planets at the edge of solar systems could provide safe harbor to microbial life.

So, Mulder, will this remarkable discovery at last lead to incontrovertible evidence of alien life? The truth is out there.