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Best of 2010: Microbial Life Found in Hydrocarbon Lake

In April, scientists found life in a lake of asphalt that is the closest thing on Earth to the hydrocarbon seas on Titan

Pitch Lake is a poisonous, foul smelling, hell hole on the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago. The lake is filled with hot asphalt and bubbling with noxious hydrocarbon gases and carbon dioxide. Water is scarce here and certainly below the levels normally thought of as a threshold for life.

These alien conditions have made Pitch Lake a place of more than passing interest to astrobiologists. Various scientists have suggested that it is the closest thing on Earth to the kind of hydrocarbon lakes that we can see on Saturn’s moon Titan. Naturally, these scientists would very much like to answer the question of what kind of life these places can support.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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