Ocean Volcanoes May Hold Clues To Alien Life

Some 480 million miles away from Earth is Jupiter’s moon, Europa, and it’s one of the few places in our solar system scientists think could host alien life. Scientists believe Europa is volcanically active and the Hubble Space Telescope recently observed ejections of material from the moon’s ice covered surface. These observations provided more evidence that there could be an ocean lying beneath Europa’s icy exterior. If the moon holds a combination of volcanic heat and water, then there could be extraterrestrial life on Europa. In fact, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory just announced they’ll be sending a probe to Europa in the late 2020s — called the Europa Clipper. But what if we could get a glimpse of what we might find when we crack Europa’s frozen crust without having to fly all the way to Jupiter? This is the bottom of the ocean. The water is icy cold, it’s dark and eerily quiet.

That is until you hit a deep sea volcanic ridge. This extreme Earth location could hold clues to life on other planets. These black chimneys are releasing iron sulfide, and the white chimneys are full of barium, calcium, and silicon. They’re known as hydrothermal vents and they’re just like hot springs on the seafloor. The streams of hydrothermal fluid can reach more than 400 degrees celsius and are full of minerals thanks to a unique interaction between the Earth’s crust and the ocean seawater. They attract all sorts of organisms hoping to enjoy the warmth, and feed off the ample minerals. The vents are home to a curious range of species collectively dubbed “extremophiles,” which are organisms that can thrive in extreme environments, where most life wouldn’t have a chance. There are red-tipped tube worms, shrimp with what look like eyes on the backs of their heads, and other strange looking creatures living on, and around, the vents. These organisms survive thanks to the unique chemical processes called chemosynthesis, wherein bacteria absorb toxic chemicals streaming from the vents and turn it into a food source. This symbiotic process proved that life could exist in extreme conditions without sunlight or oxygen.

While most scientists believe any life that might be on Europa would probably be in the form of microorganisms and not crustaceans or fish — learning how these tiny creatures survive in the cold, high-pressure, and hostile environment right here on our planet, could teach us a lot about where to look when we get to Europa. So, if you’re wondering how do those creatures survive on the ocean floor and why they look so strange, Julian has the details here. Knowing that there could be signs of life on Jupiter's moons, should we prioritize a mission to Europa over Mars? Let us know down in the comments, come back here for more videos and please subscribe..