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March 30, 2011

"It's like CSI in the snow"

About six months ago, scientists traveled to one of the coldest places on Earth, Ny-Alesund on the island of Svalbard, to look for extremophiles that survive on little food, extreme fluctuations in temperature, extreme UV radiation, and dehydration. The scientists say that this glacial environment is especially good to investigate because it is similar to the icy poles of Mars or other icy bodies like Europa. They hope that their discoveries about extremophiles in this area will help them discover similar extremophiles on these other bodies in our solar system. In particular, they are collecting samples of snow algae that makes carotinoids pigments to protect from the UV radiation, turning the snow red. Some pictures of this are in the second link below. I think that this mission as well as other AMASE (Arctic Mars Analog Svalbard Expedition) missions are a very exciting, cost-effective, and practical way to research extemophiles on Earth before looking for them on Mars and other celestial bodies.

Link to article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100806125556.htm

Here's another link to the blog of one of the researchers from a similar mission in 2009. This site contains some very cool pictures of their sample collection as well as the overall environment and landscape at Ny-Alesund: http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewsr.rss.spacewire.html?pid=32070

Posted by emslade at March 30, 2011 03:40 PM


I think it's smart to try and understand the formation of life here on Earth before we go searching for it elsewhere, because we still don't have that strong of an understanding of it. There are all sorts of confounding variables to life on other planets, like atmospheric pressure, solar wind, impacts and composition that could drastically change the timescale of life there. Also, I think we should compile a better understanding of fossils and ancient life on Earth, especially on the molecular scale, as this is what we're most likely to find on other planets.

Posted by: rborden at March 30, 2011 07:18 PM

I would agree that it is very important that we first understand what different types of life can exist on Earth before searching for life on other planets. I think that, as we learned in class, it is most important to focus on the extremophiles because they are the organisms that can survive in the extreme environments on Earth and would be most likely able to survive on other planets that have extreme conditions as well. I think that it is also very interesting and cool that we can look at places on Earth that would be very similar to conditions on other planets to get an understanding of what kind of life might live on other planets.

Posted by: rmousigi at March 30, 2011 08:37 PM

I also agree that it is a good idea to look for life in extreme conditions,especially on earth. We have talked about environments that are most suitable for life. It is a good idea to look for life in extreme climates on Earth, because right now the Earth is the odd ball when it comes to climate and the environment. If we are ever going to find life on another planet, it will most likely be a organism that can survive in extreme conditions. I am so excited to see what will come out of this.

Posted by: mackenro at March 30, 2011 09:55 PM

This mission seems to be a great way of looking at our search for life on other planets. The existence of organisms such as the 'red' algae are advocators of the possibility of life beyond earth and it is a great idea to try to understand what to expect if we do find life somewhere else in the solar system. This research will also be less expensive then to actually go to the ice caps of mars. Massive cuts in budgets, which is a pressing issue as of late, will force more innovative thinking in the field of astrobiology.

Posted by: jnana at March 31, 2011 09:34 AM

Earth serves as a prototype for modeling the formation of life and the conditions that are necessary for life to exist. Therefore it is practical to examine these potentially extreme conditions on earth for life to exist and using that as a parallel when searching for these extreme conditions on other planets. This would serve as a useful and effective way to better understand any potential observations we make on these other planets and whether they suggest life or not.

Posted by: bsri at March 31, 2011 11:06 PM

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