Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What Life Might Look Like on Jupiter's Europa: New Extreme Species Discovered

What Life Might Look Like on Jupiter's Europa: New Extreme Species Discovered

Jupiters Moon Europa Wonder what life of Jupiter's moon, Europa, might look like? Checkout a new species of archaebacteria, Pyrococcus CH1,discovered thriving on a mid-Atlantic ridge within a temperature range of 80 to 105°C and able to divide itself up to a hydrostatic pressure of 120 Mpa (1000 times higher than the atmospheric pressure). Alieve won't help down there.

This discovery was made by the microbiologists of the Microbiology of Extreme Environments Laboratory in partnership with the Institute of Oceanography of Xiamen (China) and the Earth Science Laboratory. This archaebacteria had been isolated from samples of the "Serpentine" (1) cruise, during which a Franco-Russian team explored the mid-Atlantic ridge for six weeks searching for new hydrothermal vents.

The piezophilic microorganisms constitute a subgroup of extremophiles. Discovered on the site “Ashadze”(2) at 4100 meters depth, the deepest vent field explored so far, the CH1 strain was successfully isolated and assigned to the genus Pyrococcus, within the Euryarchaeota lineage of the Archae domain.

This discovery extends the physical and chemical limits of life on Earth and strengthens the idea of the existence of a hyperthermophilic biosphere in the depth of our planet.

Pyrococcus CH1 is only one on many examples of extremophilic microorganisms on our planet, all of which point vividly to what we might eventually discover as NASA's future probes explore the moons of Saturn and Jupiter. Extremophiles are the ultimate adventurers. These organisms thrive where other microbes don’t dare venture: boiling water holes, freezing lakes, and toxic waste dumps. Researchers have sequenced the genomes of two extremophiles that live at the bottom of Ace Lake in Antarctica, where there is no oxygen and the average temperature is a brutal 33 degrees below Fahrenheit.

090429174822-large Extraterrestrial life is the most interesting thing ever, bar nothing, and if you disagree you're either a terribly limited person or misread the start of the sentence. We have two possible life-locations right here on our solar system doorstep - but we have to choose which to check. We want to go everywhere, but with a price-tag of billions of dollars per outer-planet probe we have to decide and flipping a coin just won't cut it.

Option Number One is Jupiter's Europa, the favored satellite son of many exobiologists and even Arthur C. Clarke himself. While distinctly non-Terran, huge sub-surface lakes probably heated by tidal stresses, and even an extremely tenuous oxygen atmosphere make it a leading contender. Hot water and even some air? Is there a more likely life-site without tiny bacteria-sized jacuzzis?

Number Two is Saturn's Titan, a very-Terran option whose surface lakes, shorelines, seasons and relatively thick nitrogen atmosphere mean it's viewed as an early-model Earth. And 100% of all know Earths have awesome life on them! The significantly lower temperature is a bit of a stumbling block (it's ten times as far from the sun as us), but the possibility of subterranean microbial life - or even a prebiotic "Life could happen!" environment - would be a massive result.

Posted by Casey Kazan with Luke McKinney.


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