Life on Earth… but not as we know it
Across the world's great deserts, a mysterious sheen has been found on boulders and rock faces. These layers of manganese, arsenic and silica are known as desert varnish and they are found in the Atacama desert in Chile, the Mojave desert in California, and in many other arid places. They can make the desert glitter with surprising colour and, by scraping off pieces of varnish, native people have created intriguing symbols and images on rock walls and surfaces. How desert varnish forms has yet to be resolved, despite intense research by geologists. Professor Carol Cleland, of Colorado University, has a very different suggestion. It is a striking idea: We share our planet with another domain of life that exists "like the realm of fairies and elves just beyond the hedgerow", as David Toomey puts it in his newly published Weird Life: The Search for Life that is Very, Very Different from Our Own. Science's failure to date to spot this weird life may seem puzzling.