Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2010 December 6
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Mono Lake: Home to the Strange Microbe GFAJ-1
Credit: Wikipedia; Inset: Jodi Switzer Blum

Explanation: How strange could alien life be? An indication that the fundamental elements that compose most terrestrial life forms might differ out in the universe was found in unusual Mono Lake in California, USA. Bacteria in Mono's lakebed gives indications that it not only can tolerate a large abundance of normally toxic arsenic, but possibly use arsenic as a replacement for phosphorus, an element needed by every other known Earth-based life form. The result is surprising -- and perhaps controversial -- partly because arsenic-incorporating organic molecules were thought to be much more fragile than phosphorus-incorporating organic molecules. Pictured above is 7.5-km wide Mono Lake as seen from nearby Mount Dana. The inset picture shows GFAJ-1, the unusual bacteria that might be able to survive on another world.

Best Astronomy Images: APOD Editor to speak in Philadelphia on Jan 5 and New York City on Jan 7
Tomorrow's picture: space distorted

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (UMCP)
NASA Official: Phillip Newman Specific rights apply.
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