Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan


Dr. Parkinson part of new research team for life in space

Posted: October 29, 2014

Dr. Parkinson part of new research team for life in space

Associate Research Scientist Christopher Parkinson is a member of a research team that recently earned a NASA grant to study the habitability of extraterrestrial icy worlds such as Europa, Ganymede and Enceladus.

The team is one of seven nationwide teams that NASA selected for five-year grants totaling almost $50 million to study the origins, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe.

“Humankind has always wanted to know how life started on earth and how we came about. By studying other ecological and astrobiological niches in other places in the solar system, we can begin to understand our own environment on earth better and how life might've started here,” Parkinson says.

Dr. Isik Kanik of JPL leads Parkinson’s team. The researchers will conduct laboratory experiments and field research in environments on Earth, such as The Cedars in Northern California, to understand the habitability of extraterrestrial icy worlds. The project is titled, “Icy Worlds: Astrobiology at the Water-Rock Interface and Beyond…”

“I've had a long-standing interest in what the incipient conditions are for the start of life,” Parkinson says. “Cassini discovered a plume coming from the icy moon Enceladus, which meant there was liquid water there somewhere below or in its icy mantle. Liquid water allows for conditions that might be favorable for the start of life. We know that other icy moons, such as Europa, have oceans as well and therefore they are of great astrobiological interest. The tools needed to study these environments are complex and require looking at things from a geological, hydrological, biological, and physical processes point of view. Working with Isik Kanik's group at JPL allowed me to work with several other excellent scientists with diverse expertise, creating synergies to study the icy moon astrobiology in a comprehensive way.”

To learn about the other science teams, please visit

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