A close-up of chimney structures created in the Icy Worlds lab at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. Chimney structures like these can be found on the sea floor, surrounding warm, alkaline hydrothermal vents. Researchers are recreating the chimneys in the lab to test the "water world" theory of life's origins, which says the warm, underwater vents helped kick-start life on Earth billions of years ago. The vents were thought to have been out of balance with respect to the ancient oceans, leading to proton gradients and electron transfer processes -- two essential energy sources that all life forms use on Earth.
The Icy Worlds team is part of NASA's Astrobiology Institute, based at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
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