Humans spend a lot of time and energy thinking and looking for life outside the Earth. We are sending satellites in search of new planets and shooting asteroids to answer our questions about the origins of life. But knowing where to look might be easier thanks to an unexpected discovery in a remote desert of Chile.
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In the dry and dusty landscape of the Atacama Desert in Chile, an experimental exploration vehicle has extracted from the soil a bacterium never seen before. The discovery leaves hope that there could be life on Mars waiting to be found.
Life on Mars
"We have shown that a robotic robot can recover the soils beneath the desert surface most resembling Mars," said biologist Stephen Pointing of Yale-NUS College Singapore in a statement.
"This is important because most scientists agree that all life on Mars should unfold below the surface to escape rough surface conditions where high radiation, low temperatures and lack of water make life improbable. "
Scientists agree that water once flowed on the planet. Today, the red planet is much drier with some patches of ice. But there is a theory that there could always be water under its surface.
Bacterial presence is uneven
If this hypothesis proved correct, life would also be present. Although we know that water is essential to most life forms, the new discovery in the Atacama Desert provides the opportunity for life to survive in extreme drought conditions.
The desert can receive rainfall every few years, making it one of the driest places in the world. Despite the lack of rain, the motorcyclist Zoe was able to find a microbial life just below the surface of the ground.
Next step: dig deeper
Although the conditions on Mars are even more extreme than the desert, this opens the door to the possibility that microbial life is even more resistant than previously thought.
Pointing told ScienceAlert, "We found that as depth increased, the bacterial community was dominated by bacteria that could thrive in extremely saline and alkaline soils, and were then replaced to a depth that could reach 80 centimeters (2.6 feet) specific group of bacteria that survive by metabolizing methane. "
Despite the good news, the results are not yet clear. The research team collected 90 soil samples at a time using the mobile and by hand and found that evidence of microbial colonization was uneven.
There were many extreme regions without any evidence of microbes. The soil analysis containing the microbes shows that it formed long ago when the desert water content was higher.
The researchers will now continue their work by deepening their research. The next samples will be taken two meters deep. A depth that is now possible by the current Martian rovers. The research was published in Frontiers in Microbiology.