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I'm an Explorer, Engineer, Writer, Public Speaker, and Entrepreneur. I write about exploration, travel, and science. 

Any views expressed on this site are my own.  

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Tuesday
May152012

Searching for Life Where the Sun Don't Shine

After 9 months of work, it's finally done! I recently completed my thesis for MIT's Science Writing Program, titled: "Searching for Life Where the Sun Don't Shine: Explorations to the Seafloors of Earth and Europa."

During my research, I visited the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution near Cape Cod. I interviewed a few engineers, had coffee in the lounge, walked around the building, and then when I went to leave, I found my car was parked in... By this: 

That's Nereus- a Robotically Operated Vehicle, or ROV, sitting on an unmanned forklift in the parking lot. I never really expected to encounter a situation where I'd be parked in by a robot submarine. Odd, but interesting. I waited patiently in my car until a few young engineers came out of a garage and started tinkering with the sub. Eventually they moved the forklift and I could leave.  

Anyway, here's the abstract to my thesis: 

Hydrothermal vents on Earth’s seafloor host entire ecosystems that live off energy from chemosynthesis rather than photosynthesis. This energy process uses chemical reactions between metals and hot gases from inside Earth’s mantle to fuel thriving communities of exotic organisms. Some researchers think life originated at these vents and if they’re right, that means there’s a chance life could have also originated near similar hydrothermal vents on other planets or moons. One of the most promising places to search is the suspected sub-ice ocean on Jupiter’s moon, Europa.

This is 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. It 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 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.  

Here's the team lowering the ROV Jason into the water during the MCR expedition: 

And here's icy Europa, roughly 500 million miles away from us: 

Aaaaaand here's an artist's rendering of a future "cryobot" mission to Europa which could enable us to look around for fishes below the moon's icy outer layer- hope to see this one sometime in my lifetime! 

 

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  • Response
    Lovely page, Stick to the great work. thnx!

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