Crystals and the Search for Life

bacteria trapped in minerals can tell us a lot about where life could exist elsewhere in our solar system

mirabilite crystals growing on a stick that were in an aquarium.
Halite from Searles Lake. Pink color comes from the inclusion of carotenes that were produced by halophiles.
Animation of how bacteria might be captured by crystals and how we might be able to find it on other planets and moons.
Searles Lake brine pools. Top: mirabilite (clear crystals) converting to thenardite (white crystals) on top of a brine pool at Searles Lake. Bottom: caratone-filled brine pool, white crust is crystallized salt.
Bacteria inside of a fluid inclusion. The bateria are the tiny dots moving around in the trapped fluid pocket in the crystal. Shot on an iPhone :)
  • first, sodium sulfate crystallizes in the form of the mirabilite.
  • second, sodium chloride will crystallize in the form of halite (just your normal table salt). If there were some magnesium in the water, the sequence might be mirabilite, epsomite, then halite.

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Keeping science accessible. Researching how minerals can be used to solve problems like climate change, pollution, and disease. @ NHMLA, USC, NASA-JPL

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Aaron Celestian, Ph.D.

Keeping science accessible. Researching how minerals can be used to solve problems like climate change, pollution, and disease. @ NHMLA, USC, NASA-JPL