Mars on Earth: The Atacama Desert Helps Scientists Learn More About Potential Life on Mars

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The search for other life forms outside our planet has always been the scientists’ focus from all over the planet. While it is not easy to discover life in the universe, but researchers have been trying to find methods that could make the discovery a little bit easier. That is the reason they started to analyze extreme environments on our planet, to figure out what conditions are needed for life to develop and how life might look like on Mars until missions such as NASA’s Mars 2020 rover and ExoMars will reach the Red Planet.

The best environment that has almost the same characteristics as the environment on Mars is probably the Atacama Desert in Chile. Mars’ surface is bleak, dry and irradiated mainly because the Red Planet lost its magnetosphere 4 billion years ago, perhaps due to its abundant collisions with asteroids and has a very rarefied atmosphere. Therefore, the solar winds are reaching out to the Martian surface, which creates such conditions that do not let liquid water to exist.

Life on Mars might be possible, say researchers exploring the ‘Mars on Earth,’ in the Atacama Desert

Despite that, researchers believe that Mars could have sustained life million years ago when there must have been liquid water on the surface. In the Atacama Desert, the team of scientists that conducted the experiments found 23 species of bacteria and eight species of fungi. Three of them had been found all around the region, but two of them originated from other environments. The two species were Oceanobacillus oncorhynchi, which comes from an aquatic environment, and Bacillus simplex, which can be found in plants.

The scientists concluded that they had been carried on dust particles, despite the distance they had been carried over. The fact that the Atacama Desert, which is as irradiated as Mars, can sustain life, it means that Mars can too. Even though life would not originate there, the microorganisms that are found on the landers and rovers could be carried on by Mars winds.