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The 7 Most Mind-Blowing Places Science Has Discovered Life

Life is the whole point of the universe. Anyone who says different is either a robot or a hypocrite. Without living things, the vast celestial clockwork is an alarm clock in a cemetery: pointless and annoying even to think about. Sentient beings are by definition the only reason for existence, because we're the only ones defining that word. Everything from the elephant to the amoeba is a pile of atoms that decided not to just sit there forever, making them a lot smarter than most Internet commenters.

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"The way I sit for hours looking at things I hate makes me cool."

But there are places even more toxic to joy and life than the YouTube comment section (and the commenters who manage to reproduce there). These life-forms put every human who has ever claimed to be "extreme" to shame. After all, they manage to survive ...

#7. In a Lake of Boiling Asphalt

Scientists discovered millions of simplistic life forms trapped in a toxic hell of asphalt and oil fumes, but were too sophisticated to make a joke about traffic.

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Fixed that for ya, smart people.

Pitch Lake is located in Trinidad and Tobago, and we're fairly sure it was imported direct from hell. About 150 square miles of asphalt, 250 feet deep and bubbling with hydrocarbon fumes seeping from oil reserves, it's like Mother Nature is passive-aggressively petrochemically polluting herself. And like a boyfriend exploiting the silent treatment to play Modern Warfare 3, humanity sucks out the asphalt to help pave roads over the rest of the island.

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The moral: Don't start a fight with a people holding construction equipment.

But even in the incredibly heavy-handed metaphor of Pitch Lake, life flourishes, because there are 10 million organisms living in it. Sorry, that's 10 million organisms per gram of it, just chilling out in the Death Jacuzzi. The environment is so ludicrously lethal that the discovery was reported in Astrobiology, because it had nothing to do with normal life on Earth. These things eat petrochemicals and breathe metal, making them more Transformer STD than Terran life form. Though, in fairness, that wouldn't be the lowest form of life to screw up the Transformers in the last decade.

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Bacteria didn't film Bumblebee pissing on a man.

This isn't just one new species; it's a whole community of bacteria and ancient archaea just hanging around in the modern world. Because when you can relax in a pool of liquid road soaked in gasoline, you can live wherever you want. We might have a few billion years of natural selection on our side, we but haven't evolved balls big enough to deal with that.

#6. Frozen in Ice and Time

Lake Untersee might sound like a comical foreigner's description of where you find fish. In reality, it couldn't be more hostile to properly evolved life if it were The Jersey Shore. The Antarctic lake has been iced over for at least 100,000 years. Its only inflow is from fresh-melted glacier water, which sounds lovely and expensive if you bottle it, but the lake receives less nutrition than a runway model.

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Deep-breathing exercises double as lunch.

The same lake has no outflow. It only loses water when it freezes and then sublimates off into the atmosphere. Untersee's only interaction with the rest of the universe has to happen through a membrane of permanently solid ice that has cut it off from the rest of nature since nature was still making itself up on the fly. Fortunately for science, this means life didn't bother evolving there, and instead stayed the way it was to begin with -- even allowing teams of scientists to find and research stromatolites in the lake. If you're asking "What the hell are stromatolites?" then you should be more respectful of your ancestors. Everything's ancestors. Stromatolites are mounds built by the microorganisms that dominated the first 3.5 billion years of life on Earth, aka most of it, and now only survive in environments utterly inimical to modern life, like frozen alkaline lakes and bits of Australia.

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"I still say we should have gone to Antarctica."

The environment is so ludicrously alien to life as we know it that they sent a NASA team with SETI backup. The reports don't mention the special forces with flamethrowers, possibly because that's just standard procedure for projects aiming to release life encased in Antarctic ice since the dawn of being. NASA is interested because life in Lake Untersee supports the possibility of life on Enceladus, a frozen moon of Saturn. Untersee is so stupidly hard to live in that even rocket scientists say, "If life can exist here, it can exist anywhere!"

Wilfried Bauer
Not exactly New York. In that it's clean and you won't get stabbed.

#5. At 400,000 Times Earth's Gravity

Nature is pretty good at being insane, but when you absolutely positively have to pervert the laws of everything in awesome ways, you gotta go humanity. Possibly impatient at the continued lack of Godzilla, Japanese scientists threw a bunch of bacteria into an XL-80 ultracentrifuge and turned all the knobs up to 11. Then, they turned them way past that to 400 kg. That's not 400 kilograms, that's 400,000 times Earth's gravity. It's an acceleration of 3.9 million meters per second squared -- one second of which would take you to 1 percent of light-speed if everything in the universe (including the nature of the universe itself) wasn't getting in your way.

And the life form they were testing didn't just survive. It grew.

PNAS
At this point you should be hearing ominous music and people ignoring a lone researcher's desperate warnings.

The simpler the life form, the more it can adapt to survive things that would kill higher organisms. That's why reality shows still have thousands of applicants despite being fatal to the human brain. Parococcus denitrificans doesn't even notice gravity changes up to 74,000 gravities, while our good friend Escheria coli keeps breeding right up to 400 kilogravities. They didn't just survive, they continued breeding in a new "pellet" form, with hordes of ultragravity-tolerant bacteria crushed together by the incredible pressure. All this time, Pac-Man has been tougher than we ever gave him credit for.

Namco
Holy shit, he's their king.

On the upside, Saccharomyces cerevisiae also survives at increased gravities, so at least we'll have beer as we fall into the gravity well of a massive body. (We've had nights like that.) The results show that, as well as planets, life might survive on non-hot brown dwarf failed stars. Though that's already been proven by the STD colonies on Tila Tequila.

#4. Irradiated Thin Air

In the time it takes you to get used to a new house, bacteria can evolve to suit it and spawn new species specifically tuned for your bathroom. Which you should probably clean, you filthy person. The most incredible examples of that are Bacillus isronensis and friends, which researchers found about 20 miles straight up by lofting a hot air balloon equipped with cryotubes. Which sounds like steampunk, except it's actually doing something useful.

Lady Clankington's Little Death Ray
Though they're not the only ones. (NSFW)

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and colleagues discovered three new species adapted for the stratospheric lifestyle. The bacteria have evolved enhanced tolerance to ultraviolet radiation and consider thin air more than enough live on. And in. The most incredible part is how they got up there in the first place: The researchers hypothesize that they're the action movie heroes of the micro-organic world, riding the blast wave of massive explosions to get where they need to be. Volcanic explosions, reverse lightning strikes from thunderclouds, the heat plumes from forest fires -- these things commute via natural disaster.

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Oh man, I missed the volcanic eruption. Now I have to wait until the Midwest catches fire again.

That's a big deal. There's a "panspermia" theory, which says that life is like GameFAQs: It might be really hard for the first person to unlock a new level, but once they do, it's much easier for others to use that instead of starting from scratch. The idea is that the building blocks of life can be fired from planet to planet by cosmic disasters and asteroids. Even if living organisms can't survive the process, the Lego of life they're made of can be carried around, especially since we've now seen living things surviving tectonic explosions and hypergravity.

Another possibility is the bacteria ascending through gravito-photophoresis, which is a transport for bacteria and an intelligence test for humans (did you read the word or just skip over it?). Gravito-photophoresis is the elevating effect of a shaft of light in a fluid medium -- the sunlight heating a column of air, which lifts anything small enough as it goes. Those heavenly rays of sun through the clouds might artistically elevate your soul, but they can assume bacteria's bodies, too.

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Luke McKinney

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