From Earth to the Solar System: Mono Lake

MONO LAKE: Calcium carbonate formations called tufa give California’s Mono Lake an otherworldly feel. Mountains surround the lake, forming a closed hydrological basin—water flows in, but it doesn’t flow out. Because the only way for water to leave Mono Lake is through evaporation, it is naturally hypersaline—roughly 2-3 times saltier than the ocean. Freshwater streams and underwater springs have brought trace amounts of minerals into the lake over the eons, including arsenic. Recently, bacteria which appear to incorporate arsenic rather than phosphorus into their basic biological molecules were found living in Mono Lake. This fascinating discovery may require us to rewrite our biology textbooks, and broadens the possibilities of how life elsewhere in the Universe, if it exists, might utilize the resources in its environment. Image Credit: Henry Bortman

Posted: 29 June 2011
About the Author:

Alex di Giovanni has been editing The Torch since August 2006. Prior to joining the Smithsonian, she worked as a writer and editor for the National Geographic Society, Plexus Scientific, The Nature Conservancy, The National Foreign Language Center and St. Martin’s Press, among others. She has the best job in the world.