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  sci-tech > space > story pagecorner  

NASA probes for tiny life at Yellowstone

September 17, 1999
Web posted at: 3:28 p.m. EDT (1928 GMT)

Old Faithful
Old Faithful geyser at Yellowstone National Park  

(CNN) -- A team of NASA scientists will dunk a miniature camera into boiling hot springs at Yellowstone National Park this week to search for life that could live in super-hot pools on moons and planets beyond Earth.

Three "mini-monster cams" were built by Jonathan Trent, his colleagues at NASA Ames Research Center in California and Deep Sea Power and Light Inc. in San Diego.

"We are hoping to locate multi-cellular organisms living in hot springs at temperatures well above the 150 degrees Fahrenheit that scientists now believe to be the upper limit at which that kind of life can exist," Trent said.

Trent will drop the video cameras, the size of a salt shaker, into acidic hot springs by stretching a rope across each pool and slowly lowering cameras and instruments. Wires will carry computer signals and TV pictures to the surface for analysis.

The cameras have tiny LED lights near the lens to light the area nearby. More light will give pictures more depth and better focus. The light also will help Trent do some night photography.

Sensors near Trent's cameras will show how hot the conditions are near multi-celled life forms to make sure they are found in extremely hot rather than jets of cooler water.

Ames scientists with the Sensors 2000! Project developed housing and electronics for the experiment to make sure the instruments could endure boiling water and still transmit data.

The larger plan is to prepare for the search for extraterrestrial life by looking for things that live in extreme conditions on Earth. Scientists have found single-cell archaea bacteria growing at temperatures as high as 234 degrees Fahrenheit at ocean vents on Earth.

Jupiter's highly volcanic moon Io  

Jupiter's frozen moon Europa is one candidate site for life beyond our planet. The surface is very cold but strong tidal pulls may result in volcanic activity below that could be conducive to life.

Trent and his team, including his wife, a videographer, will continue their search for a week at the Wyoming park.

Conditions like Jupiter's moon Io

Near the end of Trent's experiment, a dozen educators escorted by two scientists from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory also will visit the park to learn about the conditions at Jupiter's highly volcanic moon Io.

With its blasting geysers and bubbling thermal vents, Yellowstone is "almost like being there," said Leslie Lowes, a JPL outreach coordinator for the visit.

"Yellowstone is the closest we can come to taking teachers to Io without actually putting them on a spacecraft," she said.

The event comes as the Galileo spacecraft gears up for two close fly-bys of Io on October 10 and November 25. During the fly-bys, the orbiter will snap the closest, highest resolution pictures ever taken of the moon -- the most volcanic body in our solar system.

Galileo returns closeups of volcanic Io
August 27, 1999
Scientists discover key to Io light show
August 5, 1999
Dusty Jupiter moon gives clues to interplanetary rings
June 16, 1999
Oh, Io! Hubble views volatile moon
April 20, 1999
Jupiter's moon Callisto may hide underground sea
October 22, 1998
Galileo sends back details of Jupiter's rings
September 15, 1998

Yellowstone National Park (NPS)
NASA Homepage
  •Galileo Home Page (JPL)
  •Astrobiology at NASA
Galileo Project Information
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