486 pages, 32 b/w photos, 19 b/w illustrations
Deep Life takes readers to uncharted regions deep beneath Earth's crust in search of life in extreme environments and reveals how astonishing new discoveries by geomicrobiologists are helping the quest to find life in the solar system.
Tullis Onstott, named one of the 100 most influential people in America by Time magazine, provides an insider's look at the pioneering fieldwork that is shining vital new light on Earth's hidden biology – a thriving subterranean biosphere that scientists once thought to be impossible. Come along on epic descents two miles underground into South African gold mines to experience the challenges that Onstott and his team had to overcome. Join them in their search for microbes in the ancient seabed below the desert floor in the American Southwest, and travel deep beneath the frozen wastelands of the Arctic tundra to discover life as it could exist on Mars.
Blending cutting-edge science with thrilling scientific adventure, Deep Life features rare and unusual encounters with exotic life forms, including a bacterium living off radiation and a hermaphroditic troglodytic worm that has changed our understanding of how complex subsurface life can really be. This unforgettable book takes you to the absolute limits of life – the biotic fringe – where today's scientists hope to discover the very origins of life itself.
"Onstott so beautifully conveys his excitement that laypeople and scientists alike will find [Deep Life] a worthwhile read."
– Publishers Weekly
"Deep Life tackles one of the most mysterious, sexiest questions in science today: Is there life beyond Earth? [...] Onstott's argument is both profound – we can't understand life on other planets without understanding life on our own – and surprising, pleasing any amateur extraterrestrial beep hunter."
– Sarah Sloat, Inverse
"Extreme environments beneath Earth's surface could well be the crucible where life was forged, and studying the weird creatures that live in such locales could well shed light on how life could endure in Mars' deep crust or Europa's hidden ocean. Geoscientist Tullis C. Onstott brings you along on the hunt."
– Alan Boyle, GeekWire
"Onstott is truly a bold front-runner in deep subsurface microbiology and a great role model for anyone in geology who aspires to become a successful geomicrobiologist. Reading this book makes me feel lucky to have witnessed some of these explorations firsthand. I am also amazed by their vivid descriptions, which sometimes read like science fiction."
– Chuanlun Zhang, Tongji University
"The discovery of deep biosphere is a fascinating chapter in the history of astrobiology, and Onstott was at the bottom of it all – literally, when he and his team were searching for life in the deepest mines on Earth. This detailed and well-written book explains the importance of the subsurface biosphere and why those of us interested in the search for life on Mars are so interested in life deep underground."
– Chris McKay, NASA Ames Research Center
"Deep Life is an engaging historical account of the discovery and exploration of Earth's newest known biome, the deep subsurface. Onstott vividly chronicles the emergence of this new field by transporting the reader to the drill rigs, mines, and laboratories where fundamental discoveries that have changed our understanding of the nature of life itself and its relationship to our planet – and possibly others – were made."
– Duane Moser, Desert Research Institute
"Onstott takes readers on a journey of discovery, weaving his personal reflections on his exploits in the field with just the right amount of science. He shows how field science is challenging, exciting, and full of adventure."
– Gordon Southam, University of Queensland
1 Triassic Park 12
2 The Treasure of Cerro Negro 56
3 Bikers, Bombs, and the Death-o-Meter 103
4 Microbes in Meteorites! 126
5 Life in Deepest, Darkest Africa 143
6 Hunting for Water and Carbon 172
7 The Subterranauts 198
8 A Lot of Breaks and One Lucky Strike 234
9 Life beneath the Ice 265
10 The Worm from Hell 333
Appendix A: Chronology of the Exploration of Subsurface Life 365
Appendix B: Chronology of the Meeting of the U.S. DOE’s
SSP Meetings 377
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Tullis C. Onstott is professor of geosciences at Princeton University. He lives in Stockton, New Jersey.