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BELLEVUE, Wash. — What do a deep underwater volcano in Hawaii and Saturn's moon have in common? Astrobiologists are hoping the answer to that question is life.
The Lō’ihi seamount off the southeastern coast of Hawaii's Big Island could mimic the conditions astrobiologists believe exist on Saturn's moon Enceladus.
Lots - Worlds - System - Smith - Earth
"There are lots of ocean worlds in our solar system," Smith said. "Besides Earth, my favorite one is Enceladus." Smith isn't alone; Saturn's sixth-largest known moon is one of the most popular spots among astrobiologists searching for life in the solar system.
That is because scientists previously found evidence of hydrothermal vents – like those in Lō’ihi – and production of hydrogen, an element that life (as we know it) needs to survive. Hydrothermal vents are openings in the seafloor that spew out a mix of hot water and minerals. Last August and September, Smith and her team visited the site, where they sampled these jets and surrounding waters to understand what kind of life lives down there.
Lō'ihi - Seamount - Underwater - Volcanoes - Spreading
The Lō’ihi seamount, unlike most other underwater volcanoes, does not sit on a spreading ridge — a fracture zone at the bottom of the ocean where molten rock leaks out and creates new crust. And it’s the result of plate tectonics, which explains the rocky slabs that fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and cover Earth. As these plates move, they create all kinds of phenomena, from volcanic eruptions to mountain growth.
"We don't expect for plate tectonics to exist on these other worlds," Smith said. "So the conditions in Lō’ihi," are probably more likely what we would find." What's more, this ice-covered mystery moon likely has similar temperatures and pressures to the Hawaiian underwater volcano. The temperatures of the hydrothermal vents at this site, at 86 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit (30 to 40 degrees Celsius)...
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