Odd lifeforms discovered under a half-mile of Antarctic ice

Scientists were down in Antarctica, drilling through a half-mile of ice to try and grab some seafloor sediment. When they finally pierced through, they dropped a camera down to discover they'd accidentally hit a rock, which was a big pain in the butt.

Except it turned out to a weirdly lucky strike, because the camera revealed that the rock was, unexpectedly, covered in life.

The scientists put up a thread with some video here …

… and Wired's Matt Simon has a great story on the discovery, including some intriguing hypotheses about how the heck the lifeforms down there are getting food. Because wow, they're awfully far from any source of energy:

Wrong place for collecting seafloor muck, but the absolute right place for a one-in-a-million shot at finding life in an environment that scientists didn't reckon could support much of it. Smith is no biologist, but his colleague, Huw Griffiths of the British Antarctic Survey, is. When Griffiths watched the footage back in the UK, he noticed a kind of film on the rock, likely a layer of bacteria known as a microbial mat. An alien-like sponge and other stalked animals dangled from the rock, while stouter, cylindrical sponges hugged the surface. The rock was also lined with wispy filaments, perhaps a component of the bacterial mats, or perhaps a peculiar animal known as a hydroid.

The rock Smith had accidentally discovered is 160 miles from daylight—that is, the nearest edge of the shelf, where ice ends and the open ocean begins. It's hundreds of miles from the nearest location that might be a source of food—a spot that would have enough sunlight to fuel an ecosystem, and be in the right position relative to the rock for known currents to supply these creatures with sustenance.

Not to tell life its business, but it's got no right being here. "It's not the most exciting-looking rock—if you don't know where it is," says Griffiths, lead author of a new study published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science. [snip]

But because the researchers couldn't collect specimens, they can't yet say what exactly these sponges and other critters could be eating. Some sponges filter organic detritus from the water, whereas others are carnivorous, feasting on tiny animals. "That would be sort of your headline of the year," says Christopher Mah, a marine biologist at the Smithsonian, who wasn't involved in the research. "Killer Sponges, Living in the Dark, Cold Recesses of Antarctica, Where No Life Can Survive."