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It’s living on the icy alien worlds that appear to be creatures under a submerged Hawaiian volcano

In the global ocean, with a unique chemistry and internal heating, Enceladus has become a very promising lead in the search for worlds where life could exist.
(NASA/JPL-Caltech)

BELLEVUE, Wash. What should be a deep underwater volcano in Hawaii, and Saturn’s moon have in common? Astrobiologists are hoping the answer to that question is the life….

The Lō’ihi seamount off the southeast coast of Hawaii’s Big Island, was able to mimic the circumstances, the astrobiologists believe to exist on Saturn’s moon, Enceladus.

If it is going to mirror in Enceladus’ vicinity, the volcano, and might be able to help in the search for life on other planets, said Amy Smith, a postdoctoral researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in a talk presented Monday (June 25), here at the annual Astrobiology Science Conference. [See the 10 Strangest Places Where Life is Found on Earth]

“There are a lot of the ocean worlds in our own solar system,” Smith said. “In addition to the Earth, and my favorite is Enceladus.” Smith on the other hand, not only is Saturn, the sixth-largest known moon and is one of the most popular among astrobiologists search for life in the solar system.

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That’s because scientists have found evidence of hydrothermal vents, such as those in Lō’ihi, and the production of hydrogen, is an element of life as we know it) is needed in order to survive. Hydrothermal vents are openings in the sea floor that spew out a mixture of hot water and minerals. This past August, and September, Smith and her team went to the site, where they are sampled, these are the jets, and the surrounding waters in order to understand what kind of life lives down there.

The Lō’ihi seamount, in contrast to the majority of other underwater volcanoes, not to sit down at a spreading ridge a fracture zone at the bottom of the ocean, causing the molten rock to leak out and creates new crust. And this is the result of plate tectonics, which explains all the rocky slabs that fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and the Earth will be covered. As these plates move, they create all kinds of events, from volcanic eruptions, to the mountain of growth.

“We do not expect that plate tectonics exist on these other worlds,” Smith said. “So, the terms and conditions Lō’ihi,” it’s probably more likely what we would have done.” What’s more, the ice-covered mystery that the moon likely has a similar temperature, and the pressure is on for the Hawaiian underwater volcano. The temperature of the hydrothermal vents at this site, and 86-to 104-degrees Fahrenheit (30 to 40 ° c), it is not only Enceladus, but it is low enough for the existence of life, the Smith-Live Science, after the meeting. The top-of-Lō’ihi, it would have to be the same pressure as the sea of Enceladus,” she said.

The top-of-Lō’ihi is about 3,200 feet (1,000 meters) below the water’s surface. The organisms that live there don’t have the luxury of the sunlight, which can be used to fuel the process of photosynthesis. On the contrary, it is alive to make use of a process called chemosynthesis in which they use carbon dioxide to build up in their cells, and to grow.

“We don’t see a lot of the typical organisms found on the site,” Smith said. Maybe a couple of fish and a few shrimp and added them to it. This site is mainly dominated by mats of bacteria and, typically, Mariprofundus ferrooxydans.

The researchers ‘preliminary findings from the cruise, which have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, it turns out that these bacteria not only dominate in the area of Lō’ihi, but they were also present in the rays of the hydrothermal vents. “What this means is that for the mats to be able to extend to the surface, and are present in the cracks and crevices of the rocks, deeper and deeper to the bottom,” she said.

What’s more, they also visited the shores of the Kilauea volcano had erupted a few months earlier (in May) and found it to be the same in the microbial mats deposited in the cooling of the lava, for example, were found at a depth of 2,083 feet (635 meters) in the water. These bacteria use oxygen to make energy. However, “if there is oxygen in some of the other ocean worlds that has been up for debate,” Smith said. “So it is not sure whether or not this is a good location or not, on the basis of that.”

The researchers’ analysis of the older samples that have not been published, indicate that the organisms have a gene that could help in the determination of carbon content — an important part of the production of energy without using oxygen, ” she said.

“I think it would be a good analogue for both on scientific research as well as for testing in a realistic, not-easy-to-achieve conditions,” said Petra Schwendner, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Florida, who was not part of the study, but who have taken part in the talks. “Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, is thought to have similar environmental conditions.”

Ann Cook, an associate professor in the School of Earth Sciences at The Ohio State University, who was not a part of the course, but who have taken part in the talks, it was agreed. “To me, it seemed like a good option for you to understanding of how microbes may interact with any type of ventilation system,” she said.

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Originally published on Live Science.

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