Stratosphere is a harsh, dry, cold, ultraviolet-drenched environment with low pressure. Studying it may give us a new perspective on life on other planets.

So, the stratosphere is the atmospheric zone that lies directly above the dynamic troposphere where we live.

When we fly on a plane over 35,000 feet, we are cruising through the lowest point of the stratosphere. There are all kinds of microorganisms out there even though we don’t see them, according to Professor Shiladitya DasSarma, a microbiologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, USA, and a co-author on the new study published in the journal Current Opinion in Microbiology.

There are microscopic lifeforms that could handle the harsh atmosphere which would mean immediate death for us.

“There’s a wide variety of stress-survival mechanisms. For UV, a number of [extremophiles] have DNA damage-repair mechanisms. Others have additional, more quiescent methods, like extreme halophiles that can survive very low-water situations because their proteins are designed to hold onto whatever small amount of water is present,” says microbiologists Shiladitya DasSarma.

“Generally, people don’t think of microbes being airborne,” he tells Astrobiology Magazine. “But there’s a saying in microbiology: Everything is everywhere.”

DasSarma and his team plan to conduct a large-scale study of life in the largely unexplored stratosphere. Thus, hoping to learn more about what kinds of extremophiles live there.

The stratosphere is indeed a great place to start if we want to learn more about what life might look like on other planets

“When we measure the response of terrestrial life in extreme environments on Earth, we can learn more about habitability across the Solar System and where to refine the search for life elsewhere,” says Dr. David J. Smith, a NASA microbiologist.

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Thumbnail image: The space shuttle Endeavour hangs against Earth’s atmosphere. Credit: NASA