We may refer to Earth as “our planet,” but it really belongs to the microbes. All the plants and animals on Earth are relatively new additions to the planetary ecosystem. But despite living basically everywhere on the planet, and playing a role in many of the processes that affect the climate, the connection between microbes and the climate is often ignored. That needs to change, says a consensus statement published by researchers in the journal Nature Reviews: Microbiology.
NASA is exploring a deep-sea volcano off the coast of Hawaii as a test run for human and robotic missions to Mars and beyond. The mission, dubbed SUBSEA, or Systematic Underwater Biogeochemical Science and Exploration Analog, will examine microbial life on the Lō`ihi seamount. The mission has two objectives. The first is to learn about the operational and communication challenges of a real space mission through a deep ocean dive. A team of operations specialists and scientists at the University of Rhode Island’s Inner Space Center will serve as ‘mission control,’ while scientists on the Nautilus ship operating a deep ocean robot will stand in for astronauts orbiting Mars, controlling a surface rover. The second goal of the SUBSEA mission is to learn more about the geology and chemistry that support life in the deep ocean, as a glimpse of what alien life might require in places like the oceans of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. In this segment, NASA geobiologist and SUBSEA principal investigator Darlene Lim, oceanographer Julie Huber and volcanologist Shannon Kobs-Nawotniak join Ira to explain this hunt for weird life in the oceans—and what it could teach us about the search for life in space.