Washington, DC. -- “We tested equipment that we are developing tolook for life on Mars and discovered a rare and complex microbialcommunity living in blue ice vents inside a frozen volcano,” remarkedHans E.F. Amundsen of Physics of Geological Processes (PGP) at theUniversity of Oslo, Norway, and leader of the international AMASE team.AMASE, the Arctic Mars Analog Svalbard Expedition, is designing devicesand techniques to find life on Mars. Their test ground is Svalbard,(Norway)—an area with a geology that is analogous to some Martiangeology. “The instruments detected both living and fossilizedorganisms, which is the kind of evidence we’d be searching for on theRed Planet,” he continued. The AMASE expedition will be featured onNorwegian TV on October 6. For details see http://www.nrk.no/programmer/tv/schrodingers_katt/
Science leader of AMASE, Andrew Steele of the Carnegie Institution'sGeophysical Laboratory, explained that “ice-filled volcanic vents, suchas these, are likely to occur on Mars and may be a potential habitatfor life there.” The carbonate rocks found within the approximately1-million-year-old Sverrefjell volcano on Svalbard are similar tocarbonate rosettes found in the Martian meteorite ALH84001 and may havebeen produced by common processes. The blue ice, trapped in thevolcanic vents, may represent samples of water that formed identicalcarbonate deposits in the Sverrefjell volcano.
The scientists detected living and fossilized microbiota, in the iceand on the surfaces and cracks of other volcanic rocks, using theirintegrated life-detection strategy successfully tested by AMASE in2004. “Our instrument, designed by scientists at the Jet Propulsion Lab(JPL), detected minute quantities of aromatic hydrocarbons frommicroorganisms and lichens present in the rocks and ice,” said ArthurLonne Lane of JPL who made his 2nd voyage with the AMASE team.
Steele’s team from Carnegie deployed a suite of instruments todetect and characterize low levels of microbiota. “We performed severalsuccessful tests with a miniaturized instrument fitted with specialprotein microarray chips,” says Steele. “Our results showed that wewere able to maintain sterile sampling procedures without introducingcontamination from humans.”
Coring of the blue-ice vents and surface glacial ice involveddeveloping a detailed procedure for sterilization of the ice-coringtool. “The organisms found in ice are survivors! Small ecosystems inthe ice have apparently adapted to extremely cold conditions,” saysLiane Benning, University of Leeds. The ice and rock samples will becharacterized further in labs at the Carnegie, the SmithsonianInstitution, PGP, Penn State, and University of Leeds.
This summer’s AMASE expedition also involved interdisciplinarystudies of the world's northern-most thermal springs above sea level,rock weathering and pattern formation, and biota in glacial ice by thephysicists, geologists, chemists, and biologists on the team. The AMASEgroup sampled sedimentary rocks that are roughly 780 million-year-old,which contain remarkable remains of microbial structures that stillmaintained morphologic structure. “These rocks hold potential chemicalmarkers of fossilized life. If there is similar evidence in ancientrocks on Mars, our equipment will be able to find it,” says MarilynFogel, biogeochemist and astrobiologist at Carnegie.
Images and captions located here http://www.carnegieinstitution.org/amase2005/images.html
The Arctic Mars Analog Svalbard Expedition (AMASE 2005) team comesfrom the following institutions: Physics of Geological Processes,University of Oslo; The Carnegie Institution of Washington, GeophysicalLaboratory and Department of Terrestrial Magnetism; NASA Jet PropulsionLaboratory; University of Leeds; University of Oxford; Universidad deBurgos, Spain; The Smithsonian Institution; Penn State University;Geological Institute, University of Oslo and Idaho National Laboratory.The expedition photographer was Kjell Ove Storvik and expedition artistwas Eamonn Shaw. AMASE 2005 included reporters from Die Zeit andNorwegian radio (NRK P2) and a film crew from Norwegian television(NRK1-Schrödingers Katt). The first television program from AMASE 2005will be on the air October 6. Seehttp://www.nrk.no/programmer/tv/schrodingers_katt/
Funding for this project was provided by Physics of GeologicalProcesses, the Carnegie Institution, and other institutionsconstituting the AMASE team with additional support from NASA ASTEP,JPL, the NASA Astrobiology Institute, the Norwegian Space Center, Earthand Planetary Exploration Services ( EPX), and ElectromagneticGeoservices (EMGS).
Physics of Geological Processes (www.fys.uio.no/pgp) is a NorwegianCenter of Excellence at the University of Oslo, funded by the NorwegianResearch Council. PGP is a cross-disciplinary research center workingat the interface between physics and geology where geological processesare approached by integrated field-, experimental-, theoretical,- andcomputer modeling studies to understand the complex patterns andprocesses of the Earth.
The Carnegie Institution of Washington (www.CarnegieInstitution.org)has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research since 1902. Itis a private, nonprofit organization with six research departmentsthroughout the U.S. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology,developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology,and Earth and planetary science.
The NAI, founded in 1997, is a partnership between NASA, 16 majorU.S. teams, and five international consortia. NAI’s goal is to promote,conduct, and lead integrated multidisciplinary astrobiology researchand to train a new generation of astrobiology researchers. For moreinformation about the NAI on the internet, visit http://nai.nasa.gov
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