Posted by: crhammond | October 27, 2011

NASA Team Heads to the Tundra

Close up of an ice sample taken by NASA

The NASA Astrobiology Institute ‘Icy Worlds’ team based out of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA is currently up visiting Barrow and BASC for a two week field session out on the icy tundra.

The “Icy Worlds” team has a project running in Barrow focused on understanding the origin, distribution, and time variation in methane-rich lakes throughout the North Slope. The group is developing tools and techniques to map these lakes and conducting analyses on the water and sediments to understand the microbial populations that affect the lakes chemistry. This work is helping to advance the understanding of climate change on Earth by monitoring and measuring a powerful greenhouse gas (methane) and is advancing our ability to assess and identify potentially habitable environments elsewhere in the Solar System.

 

How does this relate to life on other planets?  Here is a quick snip-it from the NASA website about the project’s goals:

Europa, an icy moon of Jupitor: Photo courtesy of http://btc.montana.edu

“Icy worlds such as Titan, Europa, Encela- dus, and others may harbor the greatest vol- ume of habitable space in the Solar System.  For at least five of these worlds, Europa, Titan, Ganymede, Callisto, and Enceladus, considerable evidence exists to support the conclusion that oceans or seas may lie beneath the icy surfaces (Khurana et al. 1998, Kivelson et al. 2002, Collins and Good- man 2007, Lorenz et al. 2008). The total liquid water reservoir within these worlds may be some 30–40 times the volume of liquid water on Earth.

This vast quantity of liquid water raises two questions: Can life emerge and thrive in such cold, lightless oceans beneath many kilometers of ice? And if so, do the icy shells hold clues to life in the subsurface?”

The team has been heading out into the field practically every day to collect data, but took some time yesterday to visit with Hopson Middle School teacher Deb Greene’s 8th graders and 7th graders.  They chatted with the students about the solar system, the icy worlds as potentially habitable environments and the usefulness of Barrow’s backyard for the project.  They even showed some video taken the day before from a camera placed down under the ice in a frozen tundra lake!

Dr. Dan Berisford and Dr. Heather Adams talk with Hopson Middle School 7th graders

Hopson Middle School teacher Deb Greene with Dr. Dan Berisford, Dr. Kevin Hand and Dr. Heather Adams

For more information on the NASA “Icy Worlds” Project, you can visit their website at:

http://astrobiology-beta.arc.nasa.gov/nai/teams/can5/jpl-icy-worlds/

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