This attraction for tourists and astrobiologists alike sporadically shoots steaming water from an underground hot spring 200 feet into the air.
McKay has visited the Geysir — from which the term geyser originated — multiple times to understand how geysers and deep-sea vents might affect life. Geysers and deep-sea vents are hydrothermal phenomena in which water, heated and pressurized by molten rock, is released through vents at the land surface or into the oceans.
Geyser activity has been seen on other worlds as well. The Voyager 2 spacecraft discovered four active geysers on Triton, Neptune’s largest moon. And images captured by the Cassini spacecraft revealed a gigantic plume emanating from a geyser on Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, which sends ice, water vapor and other chemicals thousands of miles into space.
A more detailed analysis of the organic compounds contained in such plumes, which is the goal of proposed future missions, would constitute “the first step toward answering the question of whether life exists inside the subsurface of Enceladus,” McKay says.