Lake Untersee is a meromictic soap lie high in the mountains of Dronning Maud Land, Russian sector, Antarctica. The lake, covered by several meters of ice for the last ten thousand years, is fed by the great Anuchin Glacier. At the far end of the lake the deep water is devoid of oxygen and the lake bottom is dominated by a complex anaerobic microbial community. The underwater ecosystem nearer to the glacier is oxygen-rich and dominated by photosynthetic cyanobacterial mats and stromatolites.
Flying in to Lake Untersee, Dronning Maud Land, Russian Sector, Antarctica
Caves and lava tubes offer life protection from radiation, a critical aspect for life in hostile environments unprotected by the atmosphere and magnetic field of Earth. A student-focused collaboration between the Institute, Harvey Mudd College, the University of Innsbruck, and the Sparkling Science effort in Austria has resulted in preliminary design and testing of laser optical probes that could help an autonomous rover search for life in lava tubes on Mars.
Skylight to an ice cave in the Austrian Alps
Organic chemistry, the interaction of carbon with a host of other elements, is the foundation of life as we know it. Spectacular images and spectra generated by the Spitzer Space Telescope, have now traced the origin and evolution of carbon compounds from our own Milky Way galaxy to extra-galactic neighbors and ultimately back to the first few hundred million years following the Big Bang.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (green) in the Perseus star forming region
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/L. Cieza (University of Texas at Austin)
Fossil stromatolites provide us with a window into the complex mat structures of ancient photosynthetic microbial communities. The relative complexity of the structure of these communities can be quantified by extracting a small number of features from digital RGB and computerized tomography images of the laminae.
The Austrian Science Ministry has funded the development of a prototype of a non-invasive, non-destructive L.I.F.E. spectrometer. The project is led by Professor Birgit Sattler of the Institute of Ecology, University of Innstruck. Dr. Sattler is a distinguished scientist of the Kinohi Instiute.