2002 Annual Science Report

Carnegie Institution of Washington Reporting  |  JUL 2001 – JUN 2002

Executive Summary

The traditional view of life’s origin on Earth is that it began where atmosphere and oceans meet, where sunlight could drive life’s processes. But there is another, and astrobiologically exciting, possibility. Cracks along deep ocean floors spew out water heated to more than 350oC by magma welling up beneath Earth’s mantle. That environment, primarily the product of bacteria, supports a thriving ecosystem that flourishes in timeless darkness. Life’s energy is derived chemically from dissolved nutrients. If scientists are right about this alternative theory of life’s origins, it means that the search for other planets in other star systems potentially capable of supporting life would no longer be limited to those with surface water.

The Carnegie Institution of Washington team is studying the physical, chemical, and biological evolution of hydrothermal systems, including vent complexes associated with ocean ridges, deep aquifers, and other subsurface aqueous ... Continue reading.

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