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.
Searching for Life Where the Sun Don’t Shine: Explorations to the Seafloors of Earth and Europa
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