The question of whether life on Mars is possible continues to be one of the greatest mysteries. A new study conducted in an inhospitable environment on Earth, the Atacama Desert in Chile, supports the theory that its possible for organisms to thrive on Mars.
Alien Life May Exist On Mars
The Atacama Desert is uninhabitable, at least for most organisms since the lowest rainfall in the area is eight millimeters annually. Due to the lack of precipitation, the surface forms a crusty layer with a salt formation, making it the closest place to Mars.
The study’s author, Dirk Schulze-Makuch, did not allow the harsh conditions in the Atacama Desert to intimidate him. According to the astrobiologist from the Technical University in Berlin, he likes visiting places where people claim it’s impossible for life to exist. He described the approach they took while trying to look for signs of life in the Atacama desert.
“We decided to take a shotgun approach and throw all the new [analytical] approaches at everything—fungi, bacteria, viruses.”
Proving that life can exist in an environment as hostile as the Atacama Desert raises hopes that the same can be true for Mars. The Chilean desert has a similar environment as the Martian surface. As reported by Science Mag, Schulze-Makuch claims that the Atacama Desert can serve as a working model for Mars.
How Organisms Survived
The researchers took samples from eight areas in the Atacama in the span of three years to look for signs of life. The first samples were taken in 2015, right after record-setting precipitation in the area. The next sample collections were made in 2016 and 2017.
Based on the samples, they made a test to sequence copies of genes distinctive in living species. The researchers were even able to identify the full genome. They also analyzed how much adenosine triphosphate (ATP) was generated. ATP is a clue on the level of cellular activity, and it is additional evidence of life.
A chunk of Mars will soon be returning back to the Red Planet, carried on board our Mars 2020 rover mission, now being built. This chunk will serve as target practice for a high-precision laser on the rover's arm. Learn more: https://t.co/j1cXpiiT8P pic.twitter.com/ef2lgvDQV1— NASA (@NASA) February 19, 2018
Based on the test results, there were indicators that life exists in the desert even during dry periods. Microbes were most active near the coastal areas. However, there were still signs of life even in the driest areas back in 2015. Over the next two years, signs of life declined in all areas since there was not much precipitation during those years.
Based on their findings, the Chilean desert’s microbe community was similar to that of sandy soil. In dry areas, microbes most likely survived as non-functional cells or spores. If life on Mars is present, it would most likely mimic this scenario.