Penelope Boston studies caves and karst formations, and the special biology that lives in them — both here on Earth and possibly on other planets.

Why you should listen

Penelope Boston is fascinated by caves -- secret, mineral environments that shelter mysteries in beguiling darkness and stillness. She's spent most of her career studying caves and karst formations (karst is a formation where a bedrock, such as limestone, is eaten away by water to form underground voids), and is the cofounder of the new National Cave and Karst Research Institute, based in New Mexico.

Deep inside caves, there's a biology that is like no other on Earth, protected from surface stress and dependent on cave conditions for its survival. As part of her work with caves, Boston studies this life -- and has made the very sensible suggestion that, if odd forms of life lie quietly undiscovered in Earth's caves, there's a good chance it might also have arisen in caves and karst on other planets. Now, she's working on some new ways to look for it

Penelope Boston’s TED talk

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Life on Mars? Let’s look in caves: Penelope Boston on

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So the Mars Rovers didn’t scoop up any alien lifeforms … ? Scientist Penelope Boston thinks there’s a good chance — a 25 to 50 percent chance, in fact — that life might exist on Mars, deep inside the planet’s caves. She details how we should look and why. (Recorded February 2006 in Monterey, California. […]

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