Chemosynthesis diagram. Credit: Courtesy of NOAA

Searching for Life Where the Sun Don’t Shine (part 2): Explorations to the Sea Floors of Earth and Europa

Posted: 01/17/13
Author: Garret Fitzpatrick

This is Part 2 of a 6-part series that tells the story of humankind’s efforts to understand the origins of life, by looking for it in extreme environments where life thrives without relying on the Sun as an energy source. This series follows an oceanographic expedition to the Mid-Cayman Rise, led by Chris German of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and NASA’s efforts to plan a future mission to Jupiter’s moon, Europa. By understanding how life can live without the Sun, we may discover how life began on our planet, and whether or not Earth is the only place in the universe capable of supporting a biosphere.

Just as it helps Chris German answer riddles about the origin of life on Earth, life’s surprising hardiness gives astrobiologists cause for hope in finding life on seemingly inhospitable hells off Earth, too. Among researchers on the search for those hells is Steve Vance, a member of the Science Definition Team for NASA’s Europa missions. As Chris German and the crew of Atlantis set out to scoop up evidence for life on the bottom of Earth’s seafloor, Vance met with a team of engineers and planetary scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to plan a mission with a similar objective yet radically different destination. Their goal: to find out if there’s hydrothermal vent-like life on Jupiter’s moon, Europa.

Read more: Searching for Life Where the Sun Don’t Shine (part 2): Explorations to the Sea Floors of Earth and Europa — Astrobiology Magazine.

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