In 16 Minutes Nathalie offers a perspective that will have your mind spinning ,and maybe wondering if your family tree needs updating...
"Record solar UV irradiance in the tropical Andes" is the title of the article authored by Nathalie Cabrol (NASA Astrobiology Institute SETI Institute) et al. in the Environmental Toxicology section of Frontiers in Environmental Science, citing data collected during expeditions as part of the High Lakes Project.
The extraordinary amount of Solar Radiation that pummels the volcano mountaintop lakes and the critters that inhabit them provide a place here on earth where we can study adaptation strategies of extremophiles, and maybe learn how to look for them on other planets.
Congratulations Nathalie on the excellent publication.
A Few Scenes From Around the Basecamp: Scientific Exploration with NASA/SETI Planetary Lake Lander Project
Here are a few photos I took with my iphone from around the PLL basecamp
Planetary Lake Lander Principal Investigator Dr. Natalie Cabrol Answers Questions about the Project, with Visiting Scientist Dr. Ellen Stofan of the Titan Mare Explorer.
Students from The Lancaster Day School in Pennsylvania have been following the Planetary Lake Lander, and wrote in with a lot of very good questions about what the project.
Several of these questions were answered by Dr. Nathalie Cabrol, the Principal Investigator for the Planetary Lake Lander Project, and Dr. Ellen Stofan, the Principal Investigator for the Titan Mare Explorer (TiME) mission that was proposed to NASA last year. Dr. Cabrol, an astrobiologist, and Dr. Stofan, a planetary geologist, are both scientists who study the surfaces of Earth and other planets in order to understand the physical processes, such as glaciation, volcanism and erosion, that shape planetary surfaces over time and lead to the development of possible habitats for life .
I hope to get answers to all of these questions posted for you soon. In the mean time, here is one that we posted on the official blog of the Planetary Lake Lander.
Q. What kind of life may be possible on Titan/Saturn/Mars? Why is NASA
(and why are you) so interested in Titan?
A. We know that comets and asteroids have delivered the carbon
compounds or building blocks of life all over the solar system.
Astrobiologists believe that life requires water, a source of energy
(like lightning or volcanism) and nutrients. Life on Saturn, with its
high pressure and hydrogen gas atmosphere is not like any habitable
environment that we know of! However, science fiction writers have
thought of organisms that could live off lightning floating in the
clouds! At Titan, there is no liquid water and it is very, very cold.
However, there are liquid hydrocarbons (sort of like oil or gasoline)
and there is much about the evolution of life here on Earth, let alone
on other planets, that we would learn from exploring the undoubtedly
complex organic chemistry in Titan’s lakes. Titan can be thought of as
having conditions similar to those of Earth when life evolved, only
Mars was very similar to Earth for a short period of time, with liquid
water on its surface, so life is likely to have evolved. But since the
time period was short, life is likely to be microbial.
There are no glaciers on Titan- its cold climate has been stable for a
long period of time. High-resolution orbital imagery of Mars has
revealed evidence of glaciers on its surface- the youngest are likely
500,000 years old. We know these glaciers must have gone through
periods of melting and sublimation. Some of this glacial ice may be
preserved under layers of debris. This ice may still harbor microbial
life, so they would be excellent targets for a future Mars mission!
The lake in the Andes is being used to test technology to explore
lakes on Titan, while the conditions in the deglaciating lake may be
similar to those at some point in Mars’ past. And of course, they are
also helping us to understand the effects of our warming climate on
ecosystems here on Earth.
We'll be sharing a satellite phone from the mountaintop, the whole scientific team, so I'm changing my gmail to the stripped down html version right now while in the airport headed for Santiago, We have a limited bandwidth budget, that cant be wasted uploading non-essential things that modern earthlings take for granted, like spell-checker.
Interestingly enough, that's exactly one of the constraints that our little robot will face when its launched into space to land on an ocean of methane on Titan. Bandwidth of information beamed long distances through space is at a premium, so one of the most important jobs of the Planetary Lake Lander Project is to teach the rover how to think for its self. It cant be phoning home to ask questions about whether or not to take a picture, collect a sample, or track an interesting incident.
Heres an interesting blog post by Tom Kerwick on how bandwidth limitation is driving research in Artificial Intelligence.
Bill was just one of many who asked me why NASA keeps sending me to the Andes Mountains instead of, say, Iowa.
The Planetary Lake Lander project will design and test exploration strategies relevant to the future exploration of Titan, as well as understanding of the astrobiological principles that are shaping the future of life on Earth, and have shaped it in the past on our planet, and also possibly on Mars.
In the Andes, things are happening fast. Ice is melting, new lakes are forming, others are disappearing all at an accelerated rate that doesn't happen everywhere on earth.
And then there's the radiation. At high altitude, more radiation reaches the lakes and affects the lives of the critters that live in them, kind of like what might have happened on Mars about 3.5 billion years ago.
So if you're trying to train a robot to look for the origins of life in extreme environments, the High Lakes of the Andes are a great place to work. We'll start posting from there next week, on the official PLL Site.
Thanks Bill from A
A few weeks ago, while sitting on the deck of a rolling ship in the Mediterranean Sea I got an interesting request via email. Could I drop everything, and join a scientific expedition high in the Andes Mountains?
It seems that the Planetary Lake lander Project could use some of the chops I've developed working for Aqua Survey. I started preparing for the trip as soon as we dropped anchor.
You can imagine my excitement to join this adventure, as I have been following the project since I first heard of it from Principal Investigator Nathalie Cabrol, my old climbing buddy from the NASA High Lakes Expedition.
I look forward to posting more details soon, I head for Santiago in a few days.
When I got the chance to work in Mono Lake this week as captain of a small research vessel for Aqua Survey, Inc., I was enthusiastic about it for more than one reason.
Some of you might remember that this is the lake where NASA Scientists discovered a new species of microorganism that thrives and reproduces on the toxic chemical Arsenic. For Scientist looking for life in extreme environments, this means a whole new definition of life, as in "Life as we Don't Know it". This was my chance to visit the desert side of California's Sierra Nevada Mountains and experience this visually striking lake and get to know more about its inhabitants.
A friend of mine from the NASA/SETI High Lakes Expedition served as photographer during this project. Heres one of his photos of the lake;
Here is a link to the full article on NASA's website.
Ever Wonder how you could get paid to go camping, mountain climbing, and off roading? My Friend Christian Tambley has been doing this for years, and you can find out about his exciting lifestyle of exploration on his really beautiful new website, Campoalto.cl
Dive Into Volcano; Climbing Licancabur Volcano in the Andes to Study The Origins of Life in Extreme Environments For NASA
In 2006 I was invited by NASA/SETI Scientist Nathalie Cabrol to Dive into the Crater lakes on top of Volcano's in the Bolivian Andes as part of a study on the origins of life in Extreme Environments that would help direct future investigations of the Planet Mars. Here is my version of the experience.
( Alternative title;) A Mountaintop Food Review By Eric Wartenweiler Smith
Ascent Day 1
Licancabur Volcano, Bolivia
0500; Breakfast at the Refuge; Fresh bread rolls, jam and honey we brought from Antofogasta, powdered milk,” Hapi”. and Mate de Coca.
At 0530, I am informed by team logistician Christian Tambley that I appear out of my element, and my capacity to adapt to and survive in these environmental conditions is in question.
Christian is a very experienced extreme altitude mountaineer. He is wise, honest, and totally unsympathetic to my attempts to get used to life on the Altiplano. His view of our toils is measured from the geological perspective. ‘The scientific equipment for the entire expedition did not arrive? All life on earth is about to be eliminated by the inevitable impact of a meteor, and you are worried about some mislaid equipment. Stop weeping.”
Buddha meets Jack-ass....
My Name is Eric and My Job is Scientific Exploration.
That means I'm lucky enough to join expeditions to excavate sunken cities, climb volcanoes, find missing bombs, and Sail old research vessels, while searching for the mysteries of the natural world.