Tech UPTechnologyThe hope of finding life on Mars increases

The hope of finding life on Mars increases

A NASA test mission in the Atacama desert in Chile, the most similar terrestrial environment to the red planet, has successfully recovered subterranean organisms: strange, dispersed and salt-resistant bacteria that could show us the way forward to find life. Martian.

A NASA rover has been the protagonist of this test, discovering samples that could help humanity find extraterrestrial life , according to experts.

The NASA robot extracted soil samples from under the Earth that contained highly specialized, strange microbes that appear to have evolved to deal with the incredibly limited amounts of water and nutrients that the soil possesses, as well as its chemistry.

The discovery not only shows that the lander will be able to successfully search for any potential life on Mars or elsewhere, but it also shows the first time that these particularly resistant microbes have been discovered, which could be similar to those that currently exist. on the red planet.

The findings have been published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology and the scientists say they will aid in the search for signs of life when future missions head to Mars.

We have shown that a robot can investigate the ground below the surface in the most Mars-like desert on Earth, ” says Stephen Pointing, a professor at Yale-NUS College in Singapore, who led the research. “This is important because most scientists agree that any life on Mars would have to occur below the surface to escape the harsh conditions on the surface where high radiation, low temperature, and a lack of water cause life is unlikely. “

We found microbes adapted to high levels of salt, similar to what might be expected in the Martian subsoil. These microbes are very different from those known to occur on the surface of deserts,” Pointing continues.

“Indeed, the Atacama desert is one of the most extreme habitats on the planet. For many years it has been one of the scenarios where research has been carried out on the development of life in extreme environments (as in Río Tinto). The most arid nucleus of this desert, the presence of microbial life is very limited. This makes it one of the environments on Earth with the greatest similarities to Mars and a perfect laboratory to explore the survival of these microorganisms in extremely dry conditions “, he explains. a Very Interesting Amadeo Aznar, researcher in planetary sciences of the APT Observatory Group, who did not participate in the study.

“In analyzes carried out a few years ago, endoliths were detected inside ignimbrites. It seems that the porosity of these ignimbrites protects microorganisms from ultraviolet radiation, in addition to allowing hydration by retaining water after rains, despite extreme dryness of this very dry habitat “, comments Aznar.

Plans for 2020

Both NASA and the European Space Agency are preparing to send rovers to Mars in 2020. They will circle the surface and search for evidence of life, either in the past or present, as well as drilling below the surface in a attempt to locate any microbial life that may be hiding.

Tests of this type help ensure missions are successful and demonstrate that rovers should be able to cope with the harsh environment that is the planet Mars.

The rover was placed in the Atacama desert to see if it could extract sediment samples from a depth of 80 centimeters below the surface. The samples they collected were compared to those taken by hand, and the researchers found that they were similar, suggesting that the rover was successful.

“These results confirm a basic ecological rule according to which microbial life is irregular in the most extreme habitats on Earth, suggesting that past or present life on other planets may also present irregularities,” explain study co-authors Nathalie Cabrol and Kim Warren-Rhodes of the SETI Institute.

Referencia: Subsurface microbial habitats in an extreme desert Mars-analogue environment Kimberley Warren-Rhodes, Stephen D. Archer, Kevin C. Lee, Nathalie Cabrol, Linda Ng-Boyle, David Wettergreen, Kris Zacny and Stephen B. Pointing. Frontiers in Microbiology 2019. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2019.00069

Crédito imagen: Prof Stephen B. Pointing


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