Scientists drilled through a half-mile of ice into an Antarctic lake and found what is believed to be a first: live bacteria, reports the New York Times. The discovery is intriguing because if the cells can survive there, they could theoretically survive on a frozen planet somewhere. More research is under way to find out one crucial detail: Where is the bacteria getting its food?
“If it’s just consuming organics carried in from elsewhere"—a melting glacier, for example, "it is of much less interest," explains a NASA scientist. But if the cells are feeding off material that comes from a "local energy source," such as minerals in the continent's rock, that's a different story. Extraterrestrial life would likely have to do the same.