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Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

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Extreme Shrimps Could Possibly be Sent to Populate Europa, NASA Reports

Rimicaris hybisae

(Photo : Chris German, WHOI/NSF, NASA/ROV) Extreme shrimps thrive near hot vents in the Caribbean Sea.

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) scientists are currently examining an enigmatic ecosystem, including tiny shrimps in the Caribbean Sea, believing it holds clues about the kinds of life that can thrive in hostile environments on other planets like as Jupiter's icy moon, Europa.

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The shrimps called "Rimicaris hybisae" live in clumps on the edges of hydrothermal vents 7,500 feet underwater whose temperatures reach 750 degrees Fahrenheit. It's also very, very dark down there.

The small shrimps are piled on top of each other, layer upon layer, in cooler water near the vents. They crawl on rock chimneys that eject scalding water.

"You go along the ocean bottom and there's nothing, effectively. And then suddenly we get these hydrothermal vents and a massive ecosystem. It's just literally teeming with life," says Max Coleman, JPL senior research scientist.

A special kind of bacteria, which live inside the shrimps' mouths, allows the shrimps to endure extreme environments because of chemosynthesis, a process that produces energy in the absence of sunlight. Chemosynthesis also involves organisms that obtain energy from chemical reactions.

The bacteria produce organic matter the shrimps feed on. It utilizes hydrogen sulfide, a chemical abundant at the vents, to make organic matter.

Although the shrimps are blind, they have thermal receptors at the backs of their heads.

Scientists believe that if these bacteria can survive in extreme conditions on the Earth, they can also endure similarly harsh other environments of other planets such as Jupiter.

"For two-thirds of the Earth's history, life has existed only as microbial life. On Europa, the best chance for life would be microbial," Coleman added.

"Whether an animal like this could exist on Europa heavily depends on the actual amount of energy that's released there, through hydrothermal vents," said Emma Versteegh, a postdoctoral fellow at JPL.

European Space Agency (ESA) intends to launch its "JUpiter ICy moons Explorer mission" (JUICE) in 2030 to take the first thickness measurements of Europa's icy crust.

NASA also has started preparing a "Europa Clipper mission" that will study the icy moon while doing flybys of Jupiter.

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