Astrochemistry Students and NASA Scientist Study Wind Cave

Marc Ohms, Wind Cave’s Physical Scientist, second from left, observes students as they test water along the cave’s tour route. (NPS Photo)

WIND CAVE NATIONAL PARK, S.D. — Fifteen students and two faculty members from the University of Northern Iowa spent their spring break in the depths of Wind Cave as part of a simulated astrobiological field expedition.

The cave interested the group because of its unique and extreme environment. Astrochemistry professor Dr. Joshua Sebree said “All the students gained valuable hands on experience looking for the flow of energy in the forms of heat, air, and water.”

Students learned how to operate their equipment in the field, examining the cave with as Geiger counters, X-Ray Fluorescence, and smartphone microscopes.

Along for the ride was Dr. Morgan Cable, and astrobiologist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Dr. Cable specializes in comparing extreme environments here on earth with those found in other places in the solar system, where life may be found.

Many of Earth’s extreme environments, whether they be Wind Cave in South Dakota or lava tubes in Iceland, give scientists insight into the limits of life.

For authorities at Wind Cave, this is an opportunity to learn more about the cave system. “We are happy to host such a high-powered group of students and faculty,” said Park Superintendent Vidal Dávila. “We’re looking forward to learning more about the cave and its properties from their research here.”

The student’s trip was partially funded by a grant by the NASA Iowa Space Grant Consortium.

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