Social media and the internet may make it seem like every corner of this wonderful world has been discovered and explored already, but it’s key to remember that there’s a lot more lurking below the surface. And NASA’s about to find out what’s down there.
As Mashable reported, NASA will soon pay a visit to Hawaii's Lo'ihi volcano, which happens to be located more than 3,000 feet beneath sea level. There, the team will observe the life that thrives in these cold, dark, remote places to hopefully better understand how life on other planets may exist in similar conditions.
You see, as ScienceAlert explained, most life here on Earth depends on a process called photosynthesis, which, in case you forgot your 8th grade science lesson, is the process where plants create energy from sunlight. But around these deep sea volcanoes, life instead is predicated on “chemosynthesis,” which ScienceAlert explained is “the bacteria harnessing chemical energy, such as the reaction between hydrogen sulfide from the vent, and oxygen from the seawater around them, to produce sugar molecules,” which become their food.
Once these tiny bacteria exist other animals can feed on them for nutrients, expanding the circle of life.
NASA, Mashable further explained, is specifically hoping to learn more about how life may sustain itself on Saturn's moon Enceladus and Jupiter's moon Europa, both of which could closely resemble the environment around the Lo’ihi volcano, as both moons are already suspected to have their own heat-emitting vents and oceans beneath their ice shells.
"It's extremely rich in diversity," Craig Moyer, a volcano microbiologist at Western Washington University, who has also studied Lo'ihi volcano for more than 20 years, told Mashable. On previous trips Moyer explained he’s seen a diverse ecosystem surrounding the volcano. "My fingers are crossed that we’ll see an uptick in the activity once again," he added.
The mission begins in August and both NASA and its partner NOAA are expected to share photos from their underwater adventures, so stay tuned for a glimpse of potential alien(ish) life right here on Earth.