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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Arctic Bacteria help search for life on the moon Europa

Science and techno world topic: Space
This study has been published in the journal 'Astrobiology'

Scientists have found a Canadian fjord a territory similar to the icy Europa, a moon of Jupiter. It is an icy environment and sulfur, where sulfur bacteria associated with Arctic offers clues to future missions to Europe in their search for traces of life.

Not easy to find a place on Earth where ice and join the sulfur, as is supposed to occur on the moon Europa, but has been located in the Borup Fiord Pass in the Canadian Arctic. In this area the yellow sulfurous fumes contrast with the white snow of the environment, something like that show satellite images of Jupiter.

Image: Yellow sulpher fumes in the Borup Fiord Pass (Canada). 

Now U.S. researchers have found that the sulfur involved in the life cycle of arctic microorganisms shows characteristics that can help detect biological remains in Europe. The major space agencies like NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) missions are already preparing for that purpose.

"We found that elemental sulfur (S) may have a 'biosignatures' morphological, mineralogical and organic related to bacterial activity, so if you are in Europe we suggest the possible presence of microorganisms," explains to SINC Damhnait Gleeson study's lead author and currently attached to the Centre for Astrobiology (CAB, INTA-CSIC).

Needle and rhomboid forms of sulfur

The 'biosignatures' are associated with forms of needle and diamond grains of sulfur, where residues are mineralized extracellular microorganisms and materials. Through electron microscopy and X-ray diffraction also observed the formation of a rare form of sulfur, the 'rosickyita' on organic components. And besides, in the sulphidic material have appeared small amounts (parts per million) of proteins, fatty acids and other biomolecules.

"There are many evidences of the bacterial activity," said Gleeson, who wonders if the icy crust of Europa, or the ocean or lakes below it is assumed that there could be a similar microbial community using sulfur as a source of energy.

The researcher developed the survey, which now publishes the journal Astrobiology, a member of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA and the University of Colorado (USA). He now works as a scientist in Spain CAB in Rio Tinto, a Mars analog environment.

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