2015 Annual Science Report

SETI Institute Reporting  |  JAN 2015 – DEC 2015

Environmental and Biological Signatures in Yellowstone National Park Silica Precipitating Hot Springs

Project Summary

Radiation from the Sun potentially affects solids, liquids, and gases found on the surfaces of planets. Radiation exposure could change the chemical and mineralogical make-up of the surface materials. Sample-return missions aim to collect samples, cache them for a period of time, and then return them to Earth for additional analysis. We have performed field experiments to document environmental radiation levels and exposures and their impact on recently formed materials and associated organic matter.

4 Institutions
3 Teams
0 Publications
1 Field Site
Field Sites

Project Progress

Investigators Hinman and Cady have collected samples from acidic iron-silicon precipitating and acidic silica precipitating hot springs in Yellowstone National Park. These samples represent silica-rich Martian environments. The composition and micro-textures of the solids document changes in environmental conditions over the course of deposition. Fig 1 shows evidence of rapid cementation of bacillus(?) onto the surface of silica deposited in an acidic silica precipitating hot spring. Such deposits appear to rapidly entomb microorganisms, a hypothesis that will be tested in the future.

Figure 1. Scanning electron photomicrograph of opal precipitated from a Yellowstone hot spring. Remnants of rod-shaped microbes indicate that opal accumulated quickly around the edges of the cells.

  • PROJECT INVESTIGATORS:
    Nancy Hinman Nancy Hinman
    Project Investigator
  • PROJECT MEMBERS:
    Sherry Cady
    Co-Investigator

    Jesse Dillon
    Collaborator

    Lindsay Mackenzie
    Collaborator

  • RELATED OBJECTIVES:
    Objective 1.1
    Formation and evolution of habitable planets.

    Objective 2.1
    Mars exploration.

    Objective 6.1
    Effects of environmental changes on microbial ecosystems

    Objective 7.1
    Biosignatures to be sought in Solar System materials

    Objective 7.2
    Biosignatures to be sought in nearby planetary systems