The search for life on Mars and the Space Tiger King
Jerry van Andel sat alone on the bow of the RV Lulu, a floating junkyard of a ship, as it bobbed against the waves of the Pacific Ocean. Across deck, a team of scientists bustled around a basket full of strange life forms, wrenched from a mighty crack in the Earth, 10,000 feet below the ocean's surface.
It was a momentous haul, but van Andel, an energetic Dutch oceanographer from Stanford University, wasn't dancing around the find with the rest of the team. He was deep in thought, propped up on the anchor windlass. A shipmate, John Porteus, noticed and shuffled over.
It was 1977. Scientists had just observed life, thriving, in an oceanic ridge at the bottom of the sea for the first time. They expected a desert; they found an oasis. Bizarre fish swam through dark smoke billowing out of rock chimneys. Mollusks clung to hydrothermal vents and otherworldly rift worms -- 6-foot-tall tubes adorned with blood-red plumage -- swayed in the current.
The RV Lulu's mission contained no biologists. It wasn't designed to look for life in the ocean depths. But researchers found it anyway. Subsisting on a diet of toxic hydrogen sulfide in total darkness,under bone-crushing pressure, the place was truly alive. As the bucket of specimens was raised to the surface, van Andel immediately grasped the significance of the find: The definition of "life" was being rewritten.
The discovery had profound impacts on scientists' understanding not only of life on our planet, but of the potential ...
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