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Marine Hydrothermal Vents

Two questions that have puzzled scientists and human beings for centuries are: Is there life on Mars?; and, How did life begin? Ironically the chemical-eating bacteria found deep beneath the ocean surface in formations known as hydrothermal vents may one day provide the answer to both questions. Historically, scientists viewed the depths of the sea as a lifeless zone lacking sunlight and cold in temperature. Any life forms living deep below the surface were thought to feed off of organic material falling from above. By 1980 this view of life 1000s of feet below the ocean surface radically changed from the discovery of what are now known as black smokers or hydrothermal vents. Scientist originally discovered hydrothermal vents near the Galapagos Islands in 1977, when geologists predicting their existence descended 8200 feet below the surface (Meadows 1).

The scientist found a hydrothermal vent approximately 100 meters across with 60 Fahrenheit water pouring from openings and cracks in the sea floor (Meadows 1). Scientists were shocked to discover something more amazing than the hydrothermal vent – it was crammed full of animal life. Crabs, anemones, assorted fish and a large number of giant tubeworms were thriving in an environment scientists were convinced was uninhabitable. The remarkable discovery took the science world by storm and raised more questions than it answered. As Holger Jannasch, a geologist for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said: “The serendipitous discovery of vent life raised many puzzling questions, perhaps the most perplexing of which was, what were these animals living on? Most living things get their energy from sunlight. But what source of energy here in the deep, dark depths of the sea? Figuring out what the giant tubeworms lived on was especially mystifying because they had no mouths, guts or anuses” (Meadows 2).

The scientists eventually discovered that the energy source is provid...

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