From an article in New Scientist by By
Experiments are under way to mimic possible life-forming processes at alkaline vents on the sea floor, and perhaps elsewhere in the solar system
In a collection of glass jars at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, Michael Russell’s team is trying to recreate the moment before life on Earth came into being.
The jars are filled with seawater and stirred with a blend of chemicals designed to match the seas of Earth as they were 4 billion years ago. A syringe at the base of each jar pumps in another concoction – crafted to approximate the alkaline fluid emitted by hydrothermal vents on the sea floor. Where the two fluids come together, minerals precipitate out to form a delicate tower reminiscent of the crystal gardens made with toy chemistry kits.
Russell has spent the past three decades working on a theory that life began on Earth, and perhaps elsewhere in the solar system, in places like this. Now, with these miniature crystal gardens, he is putting that idea to the test.