Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Bubbling up organics in an ocean vent simulator

Date:
January 22, 2013
Source:
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Summary:
Fizzy ocean water and the alkaline fluid that bubbles up from deep ocean vents are coursing through a structure at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. that is reminiscent of the pillared Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz. Scientists with the NASA Astrobiology Institute's JPL Icy Worlds team have built this series of glass tubes, thin barrels and valves with a laser and a detector system. The set-up mimics the conditions at hydrothermal vents at the bottom of Earth's ocean and also detects compounds coming out of it. They want to see if sending these two liquids through a sample of rock that simulates ancient volcanic ocean crust can lead to the formation of simple organic molecules such as ethane and methane, and amino acids, biologically important organic molecules.

A team of scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is testing whether organic molecules can be brewed in a simulated ocean vent.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Fizzy ocean water and the alkaline fluid that bubbles up from deep ocean vents are coursing through a structure at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. that is reminiscent of the pillared Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz.

Scientists with the NASA Astrobiology Institute's JPL Icy Worlds team have built this series of glass tubes, thin barrels and valves with a laser and a detector system. The set-up mimics the conditions at hydrothermal vents at the bottom of Earth's ocean and also detects compounds coming out of it. They want to see if sending these two liquids through a sample of rock that simulates ancient volcanic ocean crust can lead to the formation of simple organic molecules such as ethane and methane, and amino acids, biologically important organic molecules. Scientists have long considered these compounds the precursor ingredients for what later led to chains of RNA, DNA and microbes.

A group of researchers at JPL, including senior geologist Mike Russell, Icy Worlds Principal Investigator Isik Kanik, postdoctoral fellow Laurie Barge, graduate student Lauren White and visiting scholar Takazo Shibuya, have been testing this "origin of life" theory in a refrigerator-sized apparatus at an annex to the Microdevices Laboratory at JPL. The latest segment of the experiment will track the transformation of carbon molecules into the hydrocarbons methane and ethane. Scientists want to know where the carbon for the organic molecules originates.

"What we're trying to do is to climb down and create the conditions for the very first steps to the beginning of life as we know it," said Russell, who is leading the experiment. "That's the hard part." The experiment is a key component of the Icy Worlds project, which is managed at JPL for the NASA Astrobiology Institute, based at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. The project aims to learn more about potentially habitable environments such as Mars, as well as liquid water environments on icy bodies like Saturn's moon Enceladus and Jupiter's moon Europa. "If this ocean experiment is successful, scientists would have a better handle on where to look for the building blocks of life on Earth and beyond, and what signatures we should be looking for of life and of habitable environments in the solar system," said Kanik.

This experiment has its roots in a theory from Russell in 1989 that moderately warm, alkaline hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean could have hatched life about 4 billion years ago. The ancient ocean at these vents contains carbon dioxide, which provides the supply of carbon that could be reassembled into organic molecules. In 2000, such a vent was discovered at the bottom of the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The vent later showed signs of generating simple organic molecules.

The scientists have tagged isotopes of carbon dioxide and dissolved them in briny ocean-like water, creating a fizzy sample that would probably taste like salty soda. They made an alkaline solution by dissolving sodium hydroxide in water to simulate the fluids coming out of these kinds of hydrothermal vents. Scientists will alternately send the two solutions through a thin barrel of iron-magnesium-silica-volcanic-type rock that was synthesized by Shibuya, so it doesn't have any of the existing life that would be found in actual ocean crust samples. A tunable diode laser -- a twin of one presently operating on NASA's Mars Curiosity rover -- is used to search for methane, ethane and other volatiles in the solution that flows out.

The experiment runs as close a simulation to the conditions of these hydrothermal vents as is feasible in a lab setting -- at 100 times the pressure of Earth's surface and at about 90 degrees Celsius (about 200 degrees Fahrenheit). Scientists are alternating the fluid flows to simulate the circulation at the ocean floor.

Founded in 1998, the NASA Astrobiology Institute is a partnership between NASA, 15 U.S. teams, and six international consortia. NAI's goals are to promote, conduct, and lead interdisciplinary astrobiology research, train a new generation of astrobiology researchers, and share the excitement of astrobiology with learners of all ages. The NAI is part of NASA's Astrobiology program, which supports research into the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life on Earth and the potential for life elsewhere. For more information, visit http://astrobiology.nasa.gov/.

JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Bubbling up organics in an ocean vent simulator." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 January 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130122111624.htm>.
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (2013, January 22). Bubbling up organics in an ocean vent simulator. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130122111624.htm
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Bubbling up organics in an ocean vent simulator." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130122111624.htm (accessed July 25, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Friday, July 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Goma Cheese Brings Whiff of New Hope to DRC

Goma Cheese Brings Whiff of New Hope to DRC

Reuters - Business Video Online (July 24, 2014) The eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, mainly known for conflict and instability, is an unlikely place for the production of fine cheese. But a farm in the village of Masisi, in North Kivu is slowly transforming perceptions of the area. Known simply as Goma cheese, the Congolese version of Dutch gouda has gained popularity through out the region. Ciara Sutton reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Bill Gates: Health, Agriculture Key to Africa's Development

Bill Gates: Health, Agriculture Key to Africa's Development

AFP (July 24, 2014) Health and agriculture development are key if African countries are to overcome poverty and grow, US software billionaire Bill Gates said Thursday, as he received an honourary degree in Ethiopia. Duration: 00:36 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Higgins Breaks Record at Mt. Washington

Higgins Breaks Record at Mt. Washington

Driving Sports (July 24, 2014) Subaru Rally Team USA drivers David Higgins and Travis Pastrana face off against a global contingent of racers at the annual Mt. Washington Hillclimb in New Hampshire. Includes exclusive in-car footage from Higgins' record attempt. Video provided by Driving Sports
Powered by NewsLook.com
Storm Kills Three, Injures 20 at Virginia Campground

Storm Kills Three, Injures 20 at Virginia Campground

Reuters - US Online Video (July 24, 2014) A likely tornado tears through an eastern Virginia campground, killing three and injuring at least 20. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

    Health News

      Environment News

        Technology News



          Save/Print:
          Share:

          Free Subscriptions


          Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

          Get Social & Mobile


          Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

          Have Feedback?


          Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
          Mobile: iPhone Android Web
          Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
          Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
          Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins