Astrobiological Fieldwork in Yellowstone National Park

Primary Submission Contact

Claire Kovarik

Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Laura Rowe

Faculty Sponsor Email Address



Arts and Sciences



Document Type

Poster Presentation


Fall 10-25-2019


When searching for planets that could be considered habitable, often the first things looked at are if the planet has regions of liquid water, an energy source, and conditions that permit the formation of organic molecules. Within our own solar system Mars, Europa, and Enceladus have been identified as currently, or previously, having these three characteristics. Due to high radiation present on their surface, it’s hypothesized that life would evolve in liquid, or in the subsurface, because the liquid or frozen liquid can provide protection from this radiation. Similarly, it’s believed that should there be life on Europa or Enceladus it may have evolved around hydrothermal vents because the conditions could provide the energy to synthesize organic molecules. The geothermal features of Yellowstone National Park provide a unique opportunity to explore the stability of life within extreme conditions that may mimic such extraterrestrial locales. In this work, we determined the temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen and dissolved hydrogen sulfide gas of several Yellowstone thermal features (hot springs, mud pots, and sour lake) and two control locations. We also collected water and soil samples from these locales and returned them to Valparaiso University on dry ice. These samples are currently stored at -80 °C and will be used to study the stability of various amino acids in the next year in the laboratory. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and exist in all known living organisms. The stability of amino acids that are used in building proteins (proteinogenic amino acids) and those which are found on earth but are not used to build proteins (nonprotogenic amino acid) will be tested in the lab using the water samples returned from Yellowstone in the next year. This could lead to clues of how life on other planets could evolve, if certain amino acids exhibit enhanced stability when exposed to extreme environmental conditions.

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