Underwater ‘White Smoker’ Vents: Is This Where Life Began?
Some scientists think the story of life on Earth may have started around hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean 4.5 billion years ago. Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory mimicked those ancient undersea environments with a complex experimental setup. They showed that under extreme pressure, fluids from these seafloor cracks mixed with ancient ocean water could have produced organic molecules - the building blocks that compose nearly all life on Earth.
With funding from NASA's Astrobiology Program, the scientists behind the new finding are part of a group that aims to learn about the formation of life on Earth in order to assist the search for life beyond our planet. In particular, the research lays important groundwork for understanding places such as Saturn's moon Enceladus and Jupiter's moon Europa. Both of these moons are known as "ocean worlds," bodies that are thought to have liquid-water oceans buried beneath icy crusts and may host hydrothermal activity similar to what was simulated at JPL.
For more information about Astrobiology and Ocean Worlds, visit https://science.jpl.nasa.gov/projects/IcyWorlds/