Where Life Begins –Earth and Beyond   10 comments


Hydrothermal Origins of Life Theory


hydrothermal_ventUntil 1977 scientists believed that all forms of life ultimately depended on the Sun for energy. With the 1977 discovery of the first hydrothermal vent, (Geysers that billow out from the sea floor.) and the teeming, diverse arrays of life surrounding its base Astrobiologists are now believe that life on Earth might have originated in the sulphurous base of hydrothermal vents.

Vent ecosystems are the only system on Earth that we know of where life can thrive in the complete absence of sunlight offering an alternative way for life to meet its fundamental need for energy. They depend on microbes that tap into the geyser water’s chemical energy – energy originating from within the Earth itself.

hydrothermal vent Amino acids, the building blocks of life from which many of the primitive molecules required to jump-start life form from, could have occurred within these hydrothermal vents. Vent environments minimize oxygen and radiation, which can damage primitive molecules. Along with geothermally-heated mineral-rich water these molecules could have been thrown up into cooler waters where life may have originated

Astrobiologists have struggled for years to define the range of conditions in which “life as we know it” could exist. The discovery of hydrothermal vent ecosystems expanded that range. They were the first discovery of life as we don’t know it and suggest this is a realistic and possible scenario.

The ability of life to tap such geothermal energy raises interesting possibilities for other worlds like Jupiter’s moon Europa, and ancient Red planet Mars.

                                                 Europa (Thera and Thrace Macula (2dark features)   Mars

BlackSmokerGeysereuropa Europa is squeezed and stretched by gravitational forces from Jupiter and neighbouring Galilean satellites. Its icy surface has, gradually, broken up and reformed into icebergs, but the core is considered molten. Tidal friction heats Europa’s interior possibly enough to maintain beneath the icy surface, the solar system’s biggest ocean where active hydrothermal vents are believed to exist. Astrobiologists theorize that much like the hydrothermal vents at the bottom of Earth’s oceans the ones in Europa’s dark seas be similar enough to provide all of the ingredients needed to support life.


NASANASA is planning to send a probe to Europa within the next 20 years, which will penetrate the ice  layer in search of water and vent debris. Work carried out on Earth suggests that if basic ingredients for the origins of life are there, there is a chance of discovering vent-based life forms,

10 responses to “Where Life Begins –Earth and Beyond

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  1. Very interesting! I wonder what life looks like under those Europan seas!

  2. Isaac…You may one day find out! (Link: "Diving in Alien Oceans-Europa")http://icewolves-of-europa.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!5E2EB90E8BF11A10!1750.entry

  3. Or thy could just ask you lot for directions- right ?

  4. Sure could Simon;) 1st left past Jupiter avoiding stray satellites…sling-shot round Io…avoiding stray volcanic lava plumes…fast track collision course with Europa missing icebergs…and DIVE DIVE DIVE! To the bottom of the deep blue sea! Enjoy! ;))

  5. Does anyone know why Simon’s been snooping around the submarine yards? Them things ain’t never gonna achieve escape velocity no matter how many bottle rockets he duct tapes on!

  6. Stray satellites, Jupiter ! Are we talking lumps of rock or the missing Beagle Mars probe ? So far I’ve welded two iron baths together- looks great…. took a while to cut myself back out though.

  7. Weld yourself back in Simon! You have to make it thru the asteroid belt too! Now there you really are talking lumps of rock!! Strap RM to outside of baths…escape velocity achieved no prob’s 😉 Don’t overshoot the Jovian system no matter what RM tells you…those outerlying planets are very gassy lol ;)) And remember…drill thru the ice FIRST-BEFORE diving into the Europan ocean!! ;))

  8. You eat three Taco Bell burritos and you’ll be gassy too……oh, wait. You meant the planets are gassy. Never mind. As far as achieving escape velocity goes Simon has already proven himself most adept at escaping from straight jackets, restraint harnesses and several asylums without assistance so escaping the atmosphere shouldn’t be a problem so long as he doesn’t attempt to do it in a 300 foot submarine. The bathtub scheme will probably work but it’s still gonna take a lot of bottle rockets.

  9. My stepdad was a prof of microbiology who studied bacteria that has thrived for 1000’s of years in ancient salt deposits. The thermal vent ecosystems are fascinating. As usual, brilliant post~

    • This was my first encounter with thermal vent ecosystems. They have attracted my interest ever since and has considerable weight in the astronomy field too. Your stepdad must have been a very interesting man to know!

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