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No. 95: Sep-Oct 1994

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If earth life didn't arrive from outer space (See under ASTRONOMY.), it may have arisen a couple miles below the ocean's surface at hydrothermal vents. The curious glows recently remarked at these vents (SF#87) have stimulated much speculation as to the potential role of these glows in the origin of life:

"The history of hydrothermal activity predates the origin of life, and light in the deep sea has been a continuous phenomenon on a geological time scale and may have served either as a seed or refugium for the evolution of biological photochemical reactions or adaptations."

We formally classify this item under GEOPHYSICS because scientists are still pondering how these glows are created. Some of the light is obviously black-body radiation from the very hot (350C) water but:

"...other potential, narrow-band sources of light may be superimposed on the blackbody radiation spectrum, including crystaloluminescence, Cerenkov radiation, chemiluminescence, triboluminescence, sonoluminescence, and the burning of methane in supercritical water."

(Van Dover, Cindy Lee, et al; "Light at Deep Sea Hydrothermal Vents," Eos, vol. 75, 1994.)

Comment. If cold, diffuse molecular clouds in deep space can synthesize glycine, imagine what the hot, chemically-rich fluids around hydrothermal vents might be able to do.

From Science Frontiers #95, SEP-OCT 1994. 1994-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987