Earth's Extremophiles: Implications for Life in the Solar System


Astrobiology Websites

NASA's Astrobiology Institute
"Ask an Astrobiologist" and find recent science news, current research, educator and student resources, articles, etc. in the field of Astrobiology. There are several institutions included in the Astrobiology Institute - each with their own speciality.

Astrobiology at NASA-Ames
Check out the Astrobiology Magazine on the homepage of this award-winning site. Also included are several on-line articles pertaining to current research in the field.

Thermal Biology Institute at Montana State University
Research highlights, educational materials, and a rich selection of resources are available through this site, with an emphasis on the geothermal environments of Yellowstone National Park.
A central clearinghouse for Web sites related to Astrobiology, containing the SpaceRef Directory for Astrobiology and Life Science, links to other dictionaries, articles, and news archives.

The Journal Astrobiology
Peer-reviewed, bimonthly journal exploring a variety of topics related to astrobiology.

Astrobiology Magazine
Collection of articles, interviews and panel discussions on varying aspects of life in the universe. The “Great Debates” section gives insight into the differing opinions among today's astrobiologists on the questions surrounding extraterrestrial life.

Astrobiology Program at Arizona State University
Results of current research in the field of astrobiology, including  photogeologic search for habitable environment, life on Mars and Europa. ASU is a partner with NASA's Astrobiology Institute.

Pennsylvania State University's Astrobiology Program
Research includes early environment of Earth - atmosphere and oceans, sedimentary geochemistry, and planetary atmospheres. Penn State is a partner with NASA's Astrobiology Institute.

SETI – Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence
News, info, resources about the SETI Program - the search for life in our universe. Includes “Who's Out There?”- a who, what, where interactive game that leads students through the problems and processes of searching for life in space.

Glossary of Astrobiology Terms
A compendium of astrobiology terms with links to books, publications, and astrobiology sites around the world.

Glossary of Terms Related to Microbial Life
Terms used to describe extremophiles.

Life in Extreme Environments Information Page
From, this page serves as a portal to a multitude of other Web sites for both general and specific information on life in extreme environments.

Magnetotactic Bacteria
What are they? What makes them magnetic? Where can you find them? Discover the answers to these questions and more at this Web site.

Find information about and view images of these enormously abundant mini-creatures and discover their role in, of all things, the rock cycle!

Link to a world of information about cyanobacteria and learn how biodiversity may have begun with this little phylum.

Microbe Zoo
Learn about microbes that live in dirt, animals, food, space, and water and their important functions. Find out about using microbes on space missions and in space colonies. Citations of printed articles are provided for further information.

Exploratorium Astrobiology
A portal to websites that contain information on the people, explorations and theories involved in the search for life.

Biomarker Timeline
A timeline giving a concise evolutionary record of life on earth from 3.8 billion years to 1.5 billion years. “What is Astrobiology” gives the description of life in extreme environments on earth and why that is important to studying possible life beyond earth.

A Natural View of Microbial Biodiversity within Hot Spring Cyanobacterial Mat Communities
This 18-page review, co-authored by Dave Ward, summarizes a decade of research studying hot spring cyanobacterial mats as models for understanding principles of microbial community ecology.

Life in Extreme Environments
This Nature insight review article “Life in extreme environments” is a detailed description of bacterial prevalence in extreme environments.

Planet Temperatures
Image of a thermometer with planets located at their corresponding degrees.

Extreme Ecosystem
Describes the search for life in some of the most inhospitable places on Earth for life forms: scalding heat, freezing cold, salt, lye, and darkness.

In Search of E.T.'s Breath
Reviews the history of the search for extrasolar planets as well as future missions designed to probe far-off worlds for the chemical signatures of alien life.

Indicators of Life: Detection of Life by Remote Sensing
Explains why certain chemicals in the atmospheres of planets might be likely signatures of life.

Planet Quest
Reviews the search for Earth-like planets through background information, multimedia resources, and an atlas of extrasolar planets.

A FANTASTIC!!!  collection of slide images of organisms, many from Yellowstone, with related descriptions and links.

Bugscope allows students to view "bugs" by remotely operating a scanning electron microscope. Cool!

Microbe Library
The Microbe Library is a portal providing a peer-reviewed, web-based collection of resources about the microbial world, including classroom activities. There is an annual subscription of $25 for ASM members, and $50 for non-members.

Cells Alive Bacteria Cam
Students will be astonished as they observe the amazingly rapid replication of cells before their very eyes as they view them via Bacteria Cam.

Solar System Exploration
Includes facts about the planets in our solar system and details the status of current NASA missions.

The Evolution of Our Solar System Timeline
Travel through time from the birth of our Solar System and the evolution of life on Earth. Stunning images and informative captions created by the Lunar and Planetary Institute.

Windows to the Universe: The Archean
Describes the changes that occurred on Earth during the Archean geologic period.

Phoenix Mars Lander
Launching in August 2007, the Phoenix Mission will land on Mars' icy polar plains and analyze the volatiles and complex organic molecules in the soil looking for evidence of past or present life.

Astrobiology Curriculum Materials on the Web

NASA Astrobiology Institute
Fantastic activities, links, and opportunities to all sorts of classroom-appropriate materials.  Check out "Take a Ride Through a Microbial Mat!"

Thermal Biology Institute at Montana State University
A plethora of great resources for classrooms, and great content for educators. Hands-on activities, experiments, background information, images, and opportunities for involvement in professional development are provided.

Fingerprints of Life
Johnson Space Center's suite of lesson plans for exploring for life beyond Earth. What does life require? Living conditions for extremophiles, etc. Teacher friendly! Great list of Web sites, links to astrobio news, list-servs, etc.

NOVA  Origins Web Site
This is the companion Web site to the NOVA Origins Program.

Destination Mars
Hands-on activities for students to explore the environment of Mars. Activities in lesson 5, Searching for Life on Mars, help students explore the characteristics of living organisms and perform an experiment to determine if samples are alive or not, based on the criteria for “living.”

Life on Earth … and Elsewhere?
TERC offers a suite of integrated hands-on activities that explore what life needs, the extremes in which it can survive on Earth, and where conditions may exist for life elsewhere in our solar system and beyond.

Astrobiology: An Integrated Science Approach
TERC's has developed a yearlong, inquiry-based middle and high school astrobiology curriculum that integrates chemistry, physics, biology, and Earth and space science. The curriculum was written in partnership with NASA and the National Science Foundation. A course outline and sample activities can be found online.

Life in the Universe Curriculum Guides
Curriculum Guide may be purchased from SETI. Sample lessons are available on-line. Resources for elementary and middle school teachers that are designed to bring the search for life beyond Earth into the classroom. The curriculum explores many facets of how scientists are trying to answer the questions: Where did life come from? What is its future? Are we alone?

Voyages Through Time Curriculum
A standards-based one-year curriculum for a high school integrated science course centered on the unifying theme of evolution. The six modules, Cosmic Evolution, Planetary Evolution, Origin of Life, Evolution of Life, Hominid Evolution, and Evolution of Technology, use the constructivist approach of engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate as an instructional framework.

Activities from Antarctic Extreme Environments
Several activities looking at how organisms survive this cold, dry environment.

Origins Education Forum
This NASA Education Science Forum's goal is to bring information, resources, and lessons/activities (formal and informal) to the public about the missions and research based around: Observations of the earliest stars and galaxies, the search for planets around other stars, and the search for life elsewhere in the universe.

An interactive game that explores astrobiology through astronomy, geology, atmospheres, and biology. Grades 5-8, but fun for older students and adults too! Lessons also available in PDF form.

Microbial Life – Educational Resources
This fantastic collection of information aims to provide a contemporary and expanding resource of expert information about the ecology, diversity and evolution of micro-organisms for students, K-12 teachers, university faculty, as well as for the general public. The resources cover microbial ecology, their evolution and diversity, arranged around the theme of life in extreme environments. These resources are built around themes. Our coverage emphasizes the world of microbial organisms - the eubacteria (= bacteria), archaebacteria (= archaea), viruses, and the protists (protozoa, algae, slime molds).

Living in the Microbial World
A summer workshop for middle and high school educators, hosted by the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA. This on-line collection represents resources and activities developed for, and as a result of, the collaboration between teacher participants and Woods Hole scientists.

Living in an Alkaline Environment
A three-part activity that explores the ecology and diversity of life in alkaline environments.

Introduction to Bioinformatics
An exercise designed to introduce high school and undergraduate students to modern techniques in the area of Bioinformatics, the application of computer technology to the management of biological information.

Protistan Tales of Atlantic White Cedar Swamps
A WebQuest that combines science and literacy to bring the microbes of Atlantic White Cedar Swamps to life. Through the use of antrhopomorphism, students develop oral and illustrated short stories dedicated to enhancing awareness of these organisms.

Bring em Back Alive
A series of activities that demonstrate various techniques for capturing free-living microbes from the environment.

Micro-Organisms for Investigations in Schools & Colleges
A table of selected micro-organisms which present minimum risk for use in the classroom.

Los Angeles and the Future of Mono Lake
A WebQuest exploring the biodiversity, natural history, and preservation of Mono Lake. This activity calls upon the resources housed in MLER and asks students, grades 9-12, to consider the preservation of the Mono Lake environment in relation to the needs of humans.

The Winogradsky Column
An excellent activity, specifically for grades 5 - 12, to demonstrate the growth of microorganisms. Building a Winogradsky Column is both inexpensive and effective, offering students a memorable hands-on experience. The resources provided will help you get started. Have fun in the mud!

Yellowstone References

Yellowstone National Park
National Park Services' Web site includes all basic information about the park along with a link to Education Internet Resources for Teachers,

2007 Yellowstone Issues and Resources Handbook
National Park Services comprehensive guide to the science, history, and geology of Yellowstone.

American Museum of Natural History
Science Bulletin about Yellowstone. Includes interviews with Yellowstone scientists.

Yellowstone Volcano Observatory
The USGS, YNP, and the University of Utah monitor and provide reports an updates of volcanic and earthquake activity at the park (there were over 3,000 earthquake events in the fall of 1985!).

Satellite Technologies Detect Uplift in the Yellowstone Caldera
Article on the Yellowstone Caldera Uplift and links to articles about earthquake swarms and other geologically interesting information in Yellowstone

Volcano Hazards Fact Sheet: Yellowstone - Restless Volcanic Giant
Published by the USGS, this article discusses the turmoil that lies beneath the surface of Yellowstone and implications for future activity. This site also includes additional reading materials on the subject.

Microbiology in Yellowstone National Park
This site describes how Yellowstone National Park is a focal point for cutting-edge microbiology research and how it provides a valuable setting for outreach education. Topics include questions for park officials, extremophiles.

Diversity, Ecology and Evolution of Microorganisms Inhabiting Hot Spring Microbial Mats
This website is part of the Frontiers in Investigative Biological Research (FIBR) Project 'Do Species Matter in Microbial Communities?' led by Principal Investigator.

Life at High Temperatures
This website gives an overview of the various forms of life that exist in Yellowstone National Park's thermal features. Seventeen topics can be browsed in order or selected from a menu. Topics include hidden biological resources, microbial mats, types.


The Electromagnetic Spectrum
Imagine the Universe investigates the spectrum and offers lesson plans for exploring emission spectra from supernovas for grades 9-12.

Light, Color, and the Electromagnetic Spectrum

The Space Telescope Science Institute's Amazing Space offers a Q&A for educators and older students.  Explore the interactive Star Light Star Bright activity to learn more about the spectrum and how scientists use light from distant stars to learn more about their nature

Cool Cosmos
What does a cat look like in the infrared? Tour Yellowstone in the infrared and learn more about this portion of the electromagnetic spectrum through discussion, activities, images, and games at this rich site.

Northwestern University Reflectance Spectroscopy Lab
Explore reflectance spectroscopy and perform online analysis of lunar and Martian rocks in this undergraduate laboratory exercise.

ALTA II Reflectance Spectrometer for the Classroom
The ALTA is a rugged, simple classroom instrument designed to help students in grades 5 to undergraduate learn about light, color, and spectroscopy. Using the spectrometer, students can collect spectral data on the proportions of colored light (including infrared) that reflect from real-world objects. Lesson plans are included.

Rock Around the World
Send a rock for spectral analysis! Scientists studying Mars are collecting spectra from Earth rocks so that they can compare the spectral data collected by Martian spacecraft.

NOVA Teachers. In Origins: Where are the Aliens?
Students learn how planetary absorption spectra can be used to search for life on other worlds and analyze a mystery planet's spectrum for potential signs of life.

Mars Student Imaging Project
Students in grades 5-12 analyze  THEMIS visible spectrum camera aboard NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft.

Interesting People

Tory Hoehler
Tori is an Astrobiologist/Oceanopgrapher/Chemist on staff at NASA Ames Research Center in California. In addition to all this, he also consulted on the Disney DVD, Aliens of the Deep, an adventure comparing the environments of Earth's extremophiles to those of outer space.

David Ward
Dave Ward, Professor of Microbial Ecology at Montana State University and a key member of the E/PO team at NASA Ames Research Center, is responsible for leading outreach education projects related to Yellowstone National Park. Dave is also a member of the YNP Old Faithful Visitor Education Center Scientific Advisory Board, and will be the team's liaison for planning and developing exhibits in this important new venue.

Interview with Stanley Miller
An interview with exobiology (the study of life beyond Earth) pioneer, Dr. Stanley L. Miller, University of California San Diego.

Something to Read

Life in the Universe
Jeffrey Bennett, Seth Shostak, Bruce Jakosky, (2003), Addison Wesley
Life in the Universe is a multidisciplinary study of the solar system that is both comprehensive and reader-friendly.

Seen and Unseen: Discovering the Microbes of Yellowstone
Kathy B. Sheehan, David J. Patterson, Brett Leight Dicks, Joan M. Henson, (2005),The Globe Pequot Press
A look at the interesting and unusual organisms of Yellowstone.

Life on Other Worlds and How to Find It
Stuart Clark, (2000), Springer Praxis
Discusses what life needs to survive and the possibility of extraterrestrial environments that may be hospitable.

Life Everywhere: The Maverick Science of Astrobiology 
David Darling, (2001), Basic Books
Provides an overview of astrobiology, including a review of the conditions necessary to support life, what life is, and how it might evolve.

Monica Grady, (2001), Smithsonian Institution Press
Explores the field of astrobiology, including extremophiles and planetary environments favorable to life.

Geothermal Biology and Geochemistry in Yellowstone National Park
Looking for more detail?  This online resource presents discussion on the geologic and geochemical setting of Yellowstone and how it influences microbial life. Written at an undergraduate to graduate level. 

And a Few Children's Books

Extremophiles: Life in Extreme Environments
from Life in Strange Places series
Harry Breidahl, (2002), Chelsea House Publications, 32 pp.

A visually appealing book for grades 6-8 with a section on Extremophiles and their environments.

Looking for Life in the Universe
Ellen Jackson, (2002), Houghton Mifflin, 64 pp.  
Grades 5–8 will enjoy this book about Dr. Jill Tarter, Director of the Phoenix Project of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), and her search for life outside Earth.

Life on the Edge
Cherie Winner (2006) Lerner Publications Company, 48 pp.
Life on the Edge is a colorful, reader-friendly text for grades 4–6 replete with images, information, and fun facts about the amazing world of microbes that go where no man — or woman — dare.

Other Media

"Aliens of the Deep"
An IMAX(r)3-D production, explores the possible correlation between organisms living in extreme conditions on the ocean floor and organisms that may exist in outer space. Based on principles of astrobiology, it is a visually stimulating film that is sure to motivate the study of life in the extreme. Check your local IMAX theaters.

An accompanying educator's guide has good background information and many classroom activities for grades 5–8 that guide the inquiry of what is needed for life. There are also links to oceanography sites, hydrothermal vent expeditions and space exploration sites.

NOVA/PBS Origins
A four-part television series exploring "Origins: Earth is Born," How Life Began,” Where are the Aliens?" and “Back to the Beginning.” This accompanying website has extensive resources such as interviews, web-interactives (including “A Brief History of Life” timeline), slide shows, teacher guides, and links. Grade level 7+. VHS/DVD available for purchase.

Earth's Extremophiles Home Page

Images courtesy of the
National Parks Service