Life Found on Other Planets!
While this headline may be premature, hydrothermal vents could hold a key to understanding the beginnings of life on this and other planets in our solar system.
Researchers once theorized that life on our planet arose from a warm primordial soup in a tidal pool. Hydrothermal vent discoveries have changed that theory. A growing number of scientists suspect life on earth began 3.5- 3.8 billion years ago safely tucked away in a hydrothermal vent. The first life may have arrived from deep space on a meteor, or it may have formed within the vents themselves.
Among those who believe hydrothermal vents were the cradle of life is Everett Shock of Washington University in St. Louis. He argues that the mix of high heat and cold seawater in the vent environment led to the formation of the first organic compounds. Gunter Wächtershäusen, a lawyer in Munich, has theorized that the formation of pyrite in ancient vents from sulfur and iron could have produced energy to force organic compounds to combine, leading eventually to the creation of life. Waechtershaeusen and Claudia Huber of the Technical University of Munich hypothesized recently that metal sulfides of black smokers could act as catalysts in the first step toward building organic molecules. Geologist Cornel de Ronde of the University of Otago in New Zealand and chemist Thomas Ebbesen of Nippon Institute at Princeton believe life in hydrothermal vents began well before 3.2 billion years ago. Using electron ionization mass spectroscopy, they found few differences when they compared organic compounds from current vents with biologically diverse vents fossilized in 3.2-billion-year-old greenstone from South Africa.
Some astrogeologists and astrobiologists expect to find life-incubating hydrothermal vents on other planets where there are, or were, both liquid water and volcanic activity. Mars and Jupiter's moon Europa are two good candidates. NASA's Galileo spacecraft has sent back photos of intriguing patterns on Europa's surface. To some scientists, the patterns appear to be similar to new crust on our planet's Mid-Ocean Ridge, while others interpret them as evidence of ice flow on a liquid sea that may be above a hot, rocky interior. Liquid water plus hot rocks are likely to equal hydrothermal vents.
Answers to the possible relation of life origins in our deep ocean vents and deep space await further space probes. On January 3, 1999, NASA launched Deep Space 2, or the Mars Microprobe Project, to pierce below the red planet's surface to test for water, ice, and minerals. Two probes are scheduled to deploy separately from the robotic lander into Mars' south polar region on December 3, 1999.
Are there vents on Jupiter's moon, Europa?
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