Astrobiologist Kennda Lynch Uses Analogs On Earth to Find Life On Mars

©NASA

Kennda Lynch

If we find life on the Red Planet, we'll have astrobiologists like Dr. Kennda Lynch to thank.

Lynch is an astrobiologist and geomicrobiologist studying life in extreme environments on Earth as models for characterizing habitable environments and searching for biosignatures on other planetary bodies in our solar system and elsewhere. Prior to obtaining her doctorate, she worked as a systems engineer for the International Space Station Program and as a research engineer for the Astromaterials and Exploration Science directorate, both at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Hence, she combines her engineering experience with her science training to work across multiple disciplines within the astrobiology community.

Lynch's current research focuses on studying life in hypersaline environments because recent data suggest the brines and salts are likely ubiquitous throughout the solar system and, especially on ocean worlds, are integral to habitable environments on planetary bodies.

In this image, Lynch examines brines, salts, and sediments in the Mars analog field site in Pilot Valley, Utah. Pilot Valley is a hypersaline paleolake basin that contains several aqueous minerals the have been detected on Mars. It also maintains a shallow groundwater system that hosts an amazing subsurface microbial ecosystem that includes perchlorate (a type of salt)-reducing bacteria. Her team studies the microbial ecology of the basin, and especially the perchlorate reducing bacteria, as an analog transitional habitable zone that could have occurred on Mars when surface water retreated in the Hesparian and groundwater became dominant again.

She is also starting a new study, in collaboration with European partners, of the Danakil Depression polyextreme analog environment in Ethiopia. Her other research interests include origins of life and early Earth environments, and development of in situ instrumentation.

Dr. Lynch is also very involved in mentoring students through the post doctoral level and is actively involved in increasing diversity in STEM education. Lynch is also a Ford Foundation Fellow and a proud lifetime member of the Girl Scouts. She was one of 100 women profiled in the book "Women of Space: Cool Careers on the Final Frontier" and was featured in the 2018 Netflix series "Explained" and in the 2020 Netflix series "Alien Worlds".

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