archive: SETI [ASTRO] Search For Life On Mars Will Start In Siberia

SETI [ASTRO] Search For Life On Mars Will Start In Siberia

Larry Klaes ( )
Thu, 27 May 1999 13:31:06 -0400

>X-Authentication-Warning: majordom set sender
to owner-astro using -f
>Date: Thu, 27 May 1999 16:16:31 GMT
>From: Ron Baalke <>
>Subject: [ASTRO] Search For Life On Mars Will Start In Siberia
>Reply-To: Ron Baalke <>
>Search for life on Mars will start in Siberia
>Marshall Space Flight Center
>NASA funds permafrost study to support astrobiology research
>May 27, 1999: NASA and Russian scientists have been selected to take the
>search for life in the solar system to the frozen reaches of Earth. Richard
>Hoover of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and Prof. Elena A. Vorobyova
>of Moscow State University will investigate the microbiota found in the
>permafrost and ice of Siberia, Alaska, and Antarctica.
>NASA's Office of Space Science has announced that their proposal, Permafrost
>as Microbial Habitat - in-situ Investigation, was one of 18 chosen from 123
>proposals submitted for funding under the Joint U.S./Russian Research in
>Space Science (JURRISS) Program.
>"The microorganisms found in the permafrost, glaciers, and polar ice caps of
>Earth are of profound significance to astrobiology," Hoover said . "Dormant
>ancient microbes, and even higher plants such as moss, can remain viable by
>cryopreservation, resuming metabolic activity upon thawing after being
>frozen in glacial ice or permafrost for thousands to millions of years.
>"The microbial extremophiles in the Arctic and Antarctic glaciers and
>permafrost represent analogues for cells that might be encountered in the
>permafrost or ice caps of Mars or other icy bodies of the solar system."
>Hoover is a solar scientist by training who is applying his passion for
>diatoms - "nature's living jewels" - to NASA's astrobiology research. He is
>a co-investigator on two of the major research initiatives that NASA
>selected last year for its new Astrobiology Institute. Hoover's research on
>astromaterials is concerned with the microstructure and chemical composition
>of microfossils in ancient rocks and meteorites. He is collaborating on
>these projects with Alexei Rozanov, director of the Institute of
>Paleontology of the Russian Academy of Sciences. He also is examining
>microorganisms from 3.6 km (2.3 mi) beneath the ice sheet above Lake Vostok,
>Their object is to investigate the microorganisms in the permafrost -
>permanently frozen soil - and to establish morphological characteristics and
>chemical biomarkers by which these microbes can be recognized. For more than
>a century scientists have studied the the frozen remains of mammoths and
>other creatures that died and were preserved during the last ice age.
>Hoover and Vorobyova find greater import in far smaller organisms. Diatoms,
>bacteria, yeasts, cyanobacteria and other microorganisms may thrive in the
>ice and permafrost. Other microbes can be revived after being frozen for
>long periods. While some microbes, plants and even large mammals such as
>mammoth and bison are dead, they may contain magnificently preserved
>cellular components, DNA, RNA, proteins and enzymes.
>"Icy bodies are by far the most numerous of the solar system," Hoover
>pointed out. "The dirty snowballs we call comets, the ice-encrusted oceans
>of the Jovian moons of Europa and Callisto, the icy moons of Saturn, and the
>polar ice caps and permafrost of Mars are of paramount importance to
>astrobiology. They may harbor active microorganisms; ancient microbes that
>remain viable in a deep anabiosis (i.e., suspended animation) or even
>long-dead microbes with their microstructure, biochemistry, and perhaps even
>genetic material preserved."
>"We are studying the microorganisms found in the Arctic and Antarctic
>permafrost, glaciers and ice sheets," Hoover said. "This is a very stable
>ecosystem because the temperature remains the same for long periods of time.
>The paleolife of the permafrost may hold keys to the evolution of life on
>Earth and the distribution of life in the cosmos."
>Hoover said three types of life forms are found in permafrost: active ones
>that eke out a living, forms in suspended anabiosis until things get better,
>and the ones that simply gave up and died.
>"We're very excited about the living microbes and plants that we have found
>in permafrost and on ice wedges and glaciers and the viable but long
>dormant, ancient microorganisms that can be cultured from the deep ice
>cores," Hoover said. "Even dead microbes from ancient permafrost and deep
>ice are tremendously interesting due to their state of preservation."
>These preserved life forms (from diatoms and bacteria to mammoths) can yield
>genetic material for clues about how life has changed on the molecular level
>and provide a treasure trove of ancient enzymes, proteins, and biochemicals.
>The ecosystems of the ice and permafrost should provide clues to the
>potential for life in the permafrost or ice caps of Mars, comets, and on the
>ice-covered moons of Jupiter (Europa, Ganymede, Callisto) and Saturn
>(Miranda, Titan), among others.
>"We also need to understand glaciers to know what to look for and how to
>seek life on the ice caps of Mars," Hoover explained. For example,
>cryoconite holes can be temporary glacial micro-Edens. Cryoconite is rock
>debris broken from mountains and rock surfaces by the moving ice and
>captured in the ice.
>When dark cryoconite is transported near the surface of the ice, it absorbs
>sunlight and becomes warm enough to melt the ice to produce a hole with
>liquid water, rich in minerals and nutrients from the rock dust, below the
>rock. For a few hours or weeks, it's springtime on the glacial ice for a
>world of minute diatoms, cyanobacteria, green algae, protozoa, rotifers, and
>even animals like tardigrades and nematodes.
>To understand where to look, Hoover and Vorobyova will study the microbial
>content of permafrost and the structure of the interface between the soil
>and ice, and develop techniques that could be used in exploring Mars,
>Europa, comets, and other icy worlds of our Solar System.