“A glimpse of what alien life might require in places like the oceans of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.”
The mission, dubbed SUBSEA, or Systematic Underwater Biogeochemical Science and Exploration Analog, will examine microbial life on the yellow-orange ecosystem of the Lō`ihi seamount (image below). The expedition will help NASA search for life in deep space launched – not with a rocket’s roar, but with a gentle splash into the deep Pacific Ocean. The project will use underwater robots to explore the biology, geology and chemistry of the environment around a deep-sea volcano off the coast of Hawaii believed to be similar to what may exist on Saturn’s moon Enceladus.
Studying the extreme conditions where life can survive on Earth will help them understand the potential for life to exist on other ocean worlds in the solar system. In the image at the top of the page, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft NASA’s Cassini spacecraft soars past Enceladus at a distance of 3,106 miles.
The mission has two objectives. The first is to learn about the operational and communication challenges of a real space mission through a deep ocean dive. A team of operations specialists and scientists at the University of Rhode Island’s Inner Space Center will serve as ‘mission control,’ while scientists on the Nautilus ship operating a deep ocean robot will stand in for astronauts orbiting Mars, controlling a surface rover.
The second goal of the SUBSEA mission is to learn more about the geology and chemistry that support life in the deep ocean, as a glimpse of what alien life might require in places like the oceans of Enceladus.
In this NPR Science Friday episode, NASA geobiologist and SUBSEA principal investigator Darlene Lim, oceanographer Julie Huber and volcanologist Shannon Kobs-Nawotniak join Ira to explain this hunt for weird life in the oceans—and what it could teach us about the search for life in space.
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