Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Several years ago I had a dream in which there were some unexplained features in the earthquakes associated with a volcano.  We went to where we could look at the churning lava, and at first it looked just like regular convection rolls.  Then, as we continued to watch, it became clear that these were not just convection rolls, they were in fact living beings made of the same materials as the lava itself; they were salamanders.  In fact, in shape they were not unlike the amphibians. 

Salamander in fire

This discovery made me hugely excited:  here was silicon-based life living inside the Earth.  It would be more biochemically distinct from familiar life than anything we might find on the surface of Mars.

This story reminded me of that dream.  We really know very little about what happens in the deepest depths of the Earth.  We do know, though, that at the core-mantle boundary we have 
  • a fluid (liquid iron), that might act as a solvent, 
  • a solid surface, 
  • interesting chemistry, and
  • a flow of energy.
If the chemistry is interesting enough -- and at this point, I think it's safe to say we can't be sure -- these conditions sound like the basic requirements for life. 

Maybe those salamanders really are down there, after all.

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