Scientific discovery that changes our notions of life here and elsewhere
We usually don't cover a lot of science on this site. Not that it isn't important; it's just that we are a current events/political site and science stories rarely rise to the level needed to make it on the page.
This story is different.
Scientists have been finding microscopic life miles below the surface for decades. But what they never expected to find - and indeed, previous theory argued against - was the idea that there would be complex life forms at that depth below the surface. Surely multi-celled creatures would need sunlight or some other kind of catalyst to survive.
For the first time, scientists have found complex, multi-celled creatures living a mile and more below the planet's surface, raising new possibilities about the spread of life on Earth and potential subsurface life on other planets and moons.
Nicknamed "worms from hell," the nematodes, or roundworms, were found in several gold mines in South Africa, where researchers have also made breakthrough discoveries about deep subterranean single-cell life.
The two lead researchers, Gaetan Borgonie of the University of Ghent in Belgium and Tullis Onstott of Princeton University, said the discovery of creatures so far below ground, with nervous, digestive and reproductive systems, was akin to finding "Moby Dick in Lake Ontario."
"This is telling us something brand new," said Onstott, whose pioneering work in South Africa over the past decade has revolutionized the understanding of microbial life known generally as extremophiles, which live in places long believed to be uninhabitable.
"For a relatively complex creature like a nematode to penetrate that deep is simply remarkable," he said.
The scientific process rarely leads to such gigantic leaps in knowledge. The profound possibilities to be found off the earth's surface are just as important. We are finding some worlds like Mars was, at one time in its history, perfectly capable of supporting surface life. Now that it is a dead planet - at least on the surface - might it be possible that complex life forms made their way underground and thrive to this day?
This discovery proves that such a scenario is more than a possibility.