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Characteristics and Origins of Life

What life is and how it may have originated.

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Looking for Life Beneath the Ice

Looking for Life Beneath the Ice

Credit: Endlisnis
Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f0/Sea_ice_near_coast_of_Labrador_-a.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

How hard would it be to study the liquid ocean beneath the thick ice cover of a distant planetary body like Europa? Really hard! To prepare for such a mission, scientists work in the place on Earth that is most like Europa, the Gakkel Ridge in the Arctic Ocean.

Amazing But True!

  • Europa is one of the four Galilean moons. The moon has an icy surface with a large ocean beneath. Astrobiologists would really like to know if there’s life in that ocean. Life needs water, rock and a heat source and Europa appears to have all three. The ice on Europa is water ice. The smooth surface indicates that there must be liquid beneath.  Since Europa is so far from the Sun, for there to be liquid water there must be a heat source. Many scientists say that Europa may very well have life!

  • Credit: Original uploader was Latitude0116 at en.wikipedia Later version(s) were uploaded by RP88 at en.wikipedia. (Original text : JPL)
    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:EuropaInterior1.jpg
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    Two plausible models for Europa [Figure2]

  • Oceanographers have developed equipment and strategies for studying life at deep-sea hot springs. From ships at the surface, they deploy remotely operated vehicles that go 2-to 3-miles below sea level. The vehicles take images and samples. Perhaps the most difficult place to study is the Gakkel Ridge in the Arctic. It’s also the most like Europa. The sea surface is covered with moving ice. The ridge has been isolated from the rest of the oceans for 32 million years. Life there is different!

Can You Apply It?

With the link below, learn more about how oceanographers studying the Gakkel Ridge are assisting scientists who want to look for life on Europa. Then answer the following questions.

  1. Why is the Gakkel Ridge the location on Earth that is most like Europa?
  2. What challenges do oceanographers have when studying the Gakkel Ridge?
  3. What is important about the microbes found at hot springs on the Gakkel Ridge?
  4. What should sensors sense when looking for life on Europa?
  5. What is the benefit of having planetary scientists work with oceanographers?

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Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Endlisnis; Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f0/Sea_ice_near_coast_of_Labrador_-a.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Original uploader was Latitude0116 at en.wikipedia Later version(s) were uploaded by RP88 at en.wikipedia. (Original text : JPL); Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:EuropaInterior1.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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