What’s the connection?
Not too long ago, scientists discovered that some living things thrive in places that are freezing, super hot, very acidic, deep underground, or at the bottom of the ocean. These organisms are called extremophiles, and the environments they live in—what we consider “extreme” on Earth—might be similar to what is “normal” on other planets or moons. Many scientists think that if we find life elsewhere in the universe, it is much more likely to resemble these organisms that live in Earth’s most extreme environments, not the little green men often shown in cartoons and movies.
Extremophiles are microbes: tiny single-celled organisms that you usually need a microscope to see. Yellowstone National Park is one of the best places on Earth to study extremophiles, because the park has such an amazing diversity of them. Yellowstone was established in 1872 as the world’s first national park, and it contains half (more than 10,000) of the world’s hydrothermal features, including travertine terraces, mudpots, hot springs, fumaroles, and geysers. Each thermal feature has its own unique characteristics and hosts a wide array of extremophiles.
Montana State University scientists examine these tiny life forms and their habitats because it gives them insights not only into what our early Earth might have been like and how life may have formed on this planet, but also because it helps us better consider how life might form on other planets.