BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University Bloomington scientists will use knowledge about methane production by cold-weather microbes on Earth to help NASA zero in on evidence for similar, carbon-based microbes that could have evolved on Mars, the Jovian moon Europa, or Saturn's Enceladus.
The three-year project, funded by a $2.4 million grant from NASA's Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets (ASTEP) program, will be led by biogeochemist Lisa Pratt. Her team will conduct field research in Greenland using the Kangerlussuaq International Science Support Facility as the base of operations and moving instruments and equipment to the Arctic with the 109th New York Air National Guard, which provides logistical support for NASA- and National Science Foundation-run research projects in remote polar regions.
"In order to be prepared for robotic or human exploration of other habitable worlds, scientists and engineers need to thoroughly test instruments and exploration concepts in extreme environments on Earth," said Pratt, Provost's Professor of Geological Sciences. "These environments mimic, in some ways, the places we expect to explore for evidence of extraterrestrial life."
Pratt will work with 11 colleagues at IU Bloomington, Princeton University, the Goddard Space Flight Center, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Honeybee Robotics Inc., and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a division of the U.S. Dept. of Commerce. Their primary goals: study methane release near the receding edge of Arctic ice sheets to glean clues about how life might exist at the edge of extraterrestrial ice sheets, and evaluate methods to determine whether sources of methane are biotic or abiotic in origin.
On Earth, some methane is produced abiotically through water-rock reactions and thermogenically through breakdown of petroleum by geological processes. And some of Earth's methane comes directly or indirectly from bacteria
|Contact: David Bricker|