ASTROBIOLOGY  

 

The Importance of My Job

Congratulations, you have been chosen as the  Astrobiology (BIO) team officer for this important mission. Your job is to research signs of life and determine if the PROBE discovers life upon impact.

You will need to follow every step on this page, without skipping a single step. If you find at any point that the readings from the spacecraft are not safe, you must inform the crew! 

You will be communicating with other teams using the CHAT and your MICROPHONE.

When using CHAT you will see your messages and directions in Purple. Make sure you use the drop down menu to select the correct team you want to send the message to.  Once you have typed it in the CHAT, make sure to hit Enter so that the team receives it.

When using the MICROPHONE your directions and reading will be in Green .  Unmute your MICROPHONE, read your message and make sure you mute after

ASTROBIOLOGY

Follow the following directions for researching about astrobiology.  

1. Read the text about Astrobiologists to learn about what they do.

ASTROBIOLOGIST

An astrobiologist is a scientist who studies the origin, evolution and future of life in the  universe. Most astrobiologists believe that Europa has abundant water and the right chemical elements, but an energy source has been difficult to confirm. On Earth, life forms have been found thriving near subterranean volcanoes, deep-sea vents and other extreme environments. The organisms that live in these extreme environments are known as “extremophiles.” The “extremophile” life forms on Earth give scientists clues about how life may be able to survive beneath Europa’s ice shell. 

Over the past century, the conditions under which life can thrive have expanded to include a broader range of temperature, pH, pressure, radiation, salinity, energy, and nutrient limitation. Microorganisms do not only thrive under such a broad spectrum of parameters on Earth, but can also survive the harsh conditions of space, an environment with extreme radiation, vacuum pressure, extremely variable temperature, and microgravity.

2. Answer the questions in the ASTROBIOLOGY DATA LOG.

ASTROBIOLOGY DATA LOG

OPEN DATA LOG

OCEANS

1. Read the information on Europa’s ocean by clicking on the box labeled EUROPA OCEAN.

EUROPA OCEAN

Science fiction has always hypothesized about alien life.  What if life is thriving in an ocean beneath the icy surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa? In 1979 the two Voyager spacecraft provided the first hints that Europa might contain liquid water. Then ground-based telescopes on Earth along with the Galileo spacecraft, space telescopes and the Europa Clipper spacecraft in the 2020s, increased scientists’ confidence that there is an  ocean under the ice shell of Europa. 

Scientists think Europa’s ice shell is 15 to 25 kilometers deep. While Europa is only one-fourth the diameter of Earth, its ocean may contain twice as much water as all of Earth’s oceans combined. We have evidence that Europa’s ocean may be leaking into space. 

A spectrometer is used to analyze the vapors released into the atmosphere surrounding a planet or moon. To determine if the oceans beneath the surface could support life, a spectrometer should be used to analyze the atmosphere vapor. 

2. Answer the questions in the EUROPA OCEAN  DATA LOG

EUROPA OCEAN DATA LOG

OPEN DATA LOG

FINDING LIFE

Follow these directions to research what you will be looking for to decide if Europa is capable of sustaining life.

1. Based on your research, which instrument should be added to the probe to study the atmosphere of Europa?

2.  Find the MICROPHONE.

4. Unmute and read the following message:

The Astrobiology team has a message for the Mission Commander. Please add a ___________ to the probe parts on the Multiplexer side. 

5. Mute your MICROPHONE.

6. Read the information on finding life by clicking on the box labeled FINDING LIFE.

FINDING LIFE

Our knowledge of life is based on what has been observed and measured on Earth. On Earth, life requires a liquid solvent, an energy source and molecular building blocks. Other factors can influence the availability of nutrients and energy sources. These include temperature, pH, pressure, salinity and radiation.

Water is the key solvent on Earth but it is possible other solvents could sustain life elsewhere. It is also important to determine if the molecular building blocks exist in addition to a liquid solvent.

Radiation levels on Europa may be unsuitable to support life as radiation can destroy the molecular building blocks. However, the radiation on Europa is predicted to penetrate only about 1-20 cm below the surface so life could potentially exist in the oceans of Europa. Finding byproducts produced by living organisms could indicate the possibility of life existing within the oceans of Europa

After the probe is launched and impacts Europa’s surface, it will send data collected by its instruments to determine if life potentially exists on the icy moon.

7. Open the FINDING LIFE DATA LOG to answer questions based on your research.

OPEN DATA LOG
FINDING LIFE DATA LOG

EXTREMOPHILES

Follow these directions to research EXTREMOPHILES.

1. Read the information on how extremophiles survive by clicking on the box labeled EXTREMOPHILES.

EXTREMOPHILES

Scientists always thought that life required the Sun’s energy to thrive. Now, we know that life can thrive without the Sun’s energy through a process called chemosynthesis.

Chemosynthesis is similar to photosynthesis where a living organism uses energy, water, and carbon dioxide to produce what is needed for life to exist. Photosynthesis requires the energy from the Sun while chemosynthesis requires energy from the breakdown of chemical compounds. Through the process of photosynthesis, oxygen is created. By contrast, chemosynthesis produces sulfur.

Extremophiles are hardy life forms that exist and flourish in conditions hostile to most known organisms, from the potentially toxic chemical levels of salt-choked lakes and alkaline deserts to the extreme heat of deep-sea volcanoes and hydrothermal vents.

Hydrothermal vents are an example of where chemosynthesis takes place. It is believed that Europa is tectonically active and thus has hydrothermal vents that could result in life. Based on the data sent by the probe, we can get an idea of whether or not the chemical composition of the water ocean indicates that chemosynthesis could be taking place. 

Since a  byproduct of chemosynthesis is sulfur, the presence of sulfur detected by the biosensor in the probe could mean that chemosynthesis is taking place and extremophiles could exist near the hydrothermal vents. 

2. Open the EXTREMOPHILE DATA LOG below and answer the questions. Click “Submit” when you finish answering the questions.

EXTREMOPHILE DATA LOG

OPEN DATA LOG

ANALYSIS

Follow these directions to analyze the data sent from the probe.

1. Unmute the MICROPHONE and read following message:

The Astrobiology team has a message for the Mission Commander. The probe will be transmitting data from its instruments to determine if conditions are acceptable for life . 

2. Mute the MICROPHONE.

3. Before you can analyze the data sent by the probe, you will need to know what you’re looking for. Read the information on spectroscopy and life compounds by clicking on the box labeled ANALYSIS.

ANALYSIS

SPECTROSCOPY

An emission spectrum occurs when the atoms and molecules in a hot gas emit light at certain wavelengths, causing bright lines to appear in a spectrum. The pattern of these lines is unique for each element. We can see emission spectra from comets, nebula and certain types of stars. Below is a sample emission spectrum for hydrogen.

The red and blue lines that you see within the full rainbow of colors is the signature of hydrogen that scientists use in spectroscopy. You will be looking at a spectrometer reading of Europa’s atmosphere to identify the composition. You will use the image below to compare the probe results and determine the most abundant gas on Europa’s surface.

LIFE COMPOUNDS

The following elements/compounds are widely considered as signs of potential life:

  • Hydrogen–bonds to carbon chains to create lipids, fats, amino acids, and nucleobases which are the building blocks of DNA.
  • Carbon–easily bonds to other carbon atoms to create carbon chains that allow other atoms to bond. This creates the foundation for larger organic molecules.
  • Nitrogen–bonds to carbon chains to create lipids, fats, amino acids, and nucleobases which are the building blocks of DNA.
  • Oxygen–bonds to carbon chains to create lipids, fats, amino acids, and nucleobases which are the building blocks of DNA.
  • Sulfur–allows for electrons to be shuffled. Sulfur is the catalyst for reactions. It is also the result of chemosynthesis.
  • Methane–created from digestion in living organisms.

As the probe explores the water ocean of Europa, it will be collecting information about the composition of the water. Any concentration of these elements/compounds above 100ppm is considered a concentration high enough for life to possibly exist.

ATTENTION: Stop here until the probe is launched.

4. Once the probe is launched and has impacted the surface of Europa, a data download code should be showing on DATA SELECT in the call software. Use this code to download and analyze the probe data. Type the code into the PROBE ANALYSIS DATA LOG below. Click “Next”.

5. Complete the PROBE ANALYSIS DATA LOG as instructed. Click “Submit” when you are finished. 

PROBE ANALYSIS DATA LOG

OPEN DATA LOG

Notepad

1. Locate the MICROPHONE and unmute.

2. Say the following message:

This is ASTROBIO. I have completed all my tasks.

4. Mute your mic and continue on to your next mission – Terraforming.

TERRAFORMING

FINDING NEW WORLDS

As an astrobiologist, you are expected to find conditions for life.  In this training you will find planets that may be inhabitable and begin terraforming.  As you travel, land gently on planets to refill your oxygen and fuel reserves. Watch out for black holes, meteor showers and other hazards along the way.  To begin your training go to The Last Horizon.

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