March 16th, 2010
10:39 AM ET

NASA discovers life hidden 600 feet below Antarctic ice

A three-inch long Lyssianasid amphipod (seen in orange) was found on the underside of the McMurdo ice shelf in Antarctica.

Six hundred feet below the Antarctic ice, where no light can be found, NASA scientists made a startling discovery – a swimming shrimp-like creature that could challenge the idea of where and how forms of life can survive.

While the creature is small itself -– only about three inches long -– its impact could be tremendous.

A NASA team had lowered a small video camera to get the first-ever photograph of the underside of an ice shelf – and that’s when they saw the swimming creature, according to a NASA document.

The discovery could shake the very foundation of what kind of creatures can survive in certain atmospheres.

"We were operating on the presumption that nothing's there," NASA ice scientist Robert Bindschadler told the Associated Press. "It was a shrimp you'd enjoy having on your plate."

"We were just gaga over it," he told the AP.

The creature, a Lyssianasid amphipod, could lead the way for larger expeditions into harsher environments that scientists previously believed could not support life – both on the Earth and even frozen moons in outer space.

soundoff (608 Responses)
  1. rseibel

    It's not a surprise that NASA is doing such work. As space exploration expands and evolves, there is an obvious need to be able to conduct studies and operate in increasingly foreign and hostile environments. There really aren't labs were such techniques can be honed, but the Antarctic is one such environment.

    As for what such a discovery says about NASA's abilities or knowledge, or about science and scientists in general, it only exemplifies how scientific method works. Assumptions about where life exists and where it should or shouldn't exist are not answers. Answers can only be had by raising questions and then conducting research to answer said questions.

    It used to be assumed that the world was flat. It used to be assumed that our solar system and the Universe revolved around the Earth. It used to be assumed that Man couldn't fly. Luckily, these assumptions were proven wrong, even though they were arguably the assumptions of a majority of people at the given time.

    Last, tenets of faith is proof of nothing. Faith, by it's definition not fact (According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, faith is "based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof."). Faith says absolutely nothing about the nature, properties, and/or characteristics of the physical world. Faith is not a theory. It is not something that can be tested and verified as fact. Using faith to deride or criticize things scientific is a wholly subjective effort, just as saying "Periwinkle is the best color" is purely subjective and without factual basis.

    March 16, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Toby

    I pity the poor shrimp that it has to live under such inhospitable conditions to escape the vicious nature of mankind.

    March 16, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Kevin

    I love how some of you people knock NASA for going out and exploring. Have you ever used a cell phone?

    March 16, 2010 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mike

    Thank you Matt and Pauline! I am so sick of people who want it both ways. Not every dollar that we spend as a country needs to be spent on saving the great "American Job". This story just illustrates how badly we need to continue to explore and try to understand the things that are around us. Discoveries like this can lead to so many other things and advancements. If we just try to protect the status quo, we wil never be able to compete in the future.

    March 16, 2010 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ian

    It's nice to see that maybe scientists will be able to change their ideas on 'how life forms survive'. It's frustrating to see people saying that no life can exist in conditions that are not identical to ours.

    March 16, 2010 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  6. kayode

    Perhaps, this little discovery teaches us that we know very little about nature and the world we live in.

    March 16, 2010 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  7. skeptic

    Something fishy here! Where there's no light, the creatures would turn white (no color – and no eyes). But this shrimp is orange!

    March 16, 2010 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Lauren

    Sorry, comment interuptus here. I wanted to say that many many in the tribe died, when our 'explorers' went way into the Amazon. This tribe never saw a white man, nor knew what was outside their own territory.

    March 16, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Clewie

    Italia: Yes, scientists do "only know as far as the evidence in front of their faces", but then believers such as yourself don't even have that luxury.

    By the way, this is not necessarily a sub-zero environment: the coldest the water could have been is 28F (-2C), the temperature at which sea water freezes. And there are other known aquatic species that survive frozen in solid of ice as part of their annual cycle.

    March 16, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  10. GMAN69

    Couple of people asked if was alive or frozen in the ice. read the story. IT WAS SWIMMING!!!

    March 16, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  11. sec

    The billions of dollars spent on remote control cars to tool around on the suface of mars has greatly benefited by life. Are you serious?

    March 16, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  12. PJ

    Forget WHAT the shrimp eats, WHAT eats the shrimp?

    March 16, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Craig

    I'm surprised NASA is so surprised – they send probes into outer space light years away in space LOOKING for life and they're dumb-founded life exist here on earth where they weren't expecting? Why weren't they expecting?

    March 16, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. fisherman

    But did it get away?

    March 16, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Selene

    It's not the first time that an organism has been found in an environment that we didn't think it would be possible to survive. Over 30 years ago scientists discovered hundreds of organisms living several thousand feet down in the ocean surrounding 'cold seeps' which are locations where organic compounds (often hydrocarbons such as methane) seep out of the sediments. Organisms there are able to live without needing photosynthesis by developing symbiotic relationships with bacteria that can perform chemosynthesis; basically producing energy using methane or hydrogen sulfide as a source rather than photons. Entire ecosystems have sprang up around these locations, with food webs as complex as those at shallow depths. Having seen a cold seep environment myself, I can tell you it is a very inhospitable environment with temperatures at or below freezing, which is possible because of the extreme pressures at depth. There are other examples, but they would take a while to describe and I'm sure most of you would get bored halfway through reading them.
    As for why NASA was there... The antarctic has some of the most inhospitable environments on Earth, which is along the same lines as outer space – generally believed to be inhospitable to life. So why spend billions running off the planet when you can find evidence that it is at least possible for organisms to survive at the extremes even here on our own planet? Besides, we know less about what goes on in the ocean than we do about the moon...

    March 16, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
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