Life on Mars likely similar to Earth's
Martian life would likely be similar to archaea on Earth.
It's an exciting time to be a Mars researcher. In less than two months, a new rover will touch down on the Martian surface to explore the planet, and recent studies suggest that life may in fact have once lived, or still lives on the surface of the Red Planet. Now new research seems to confirm that life could be thriving on the harsh Martian surface.
Now, researchers studying some of the highest peaks in the Andes mountains, an environment that is very similar to Mars, they say those peaks are home to a number of extreme organisms which are found only in that environment. How they survive is still unclear, but they do thrive.
A new study, due for publication in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Biogeosciences, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, suggests that martian life would be similar to archaea found thriving in the Andes.
Researchers have spent years studying some of the most extreme and inhospitable places on Earth. From deep ocean vents with water hotter than boiling to freezing cold, yet super-dry conditions in the Andes are all homes for a variety of organisms called "extremeophiles." In the Andes, a motley assortment of just a couple dozen organisms, collectively called archaea (this includes bacteria, fungi, and other organisms), thrive despite having virtually no water and no discernible way of generating energy for themselves.
The peaks of the Atacama region are very dry. The region sees virtually no rain and the rare snow that falls evaporates after mere minutes on the ground. This is of interest to scientists because water is widely regarded as a prerequisite for life. Virtually all life uses water to help create the energy needed to survive. But there doesn't appear to be enough water on the peaks to support any life. In fact, microscopic organisms that have the misfortune of falling in the rain on those very peaks, die within minutes of exposure.
Yet, in the Atacama region, with mountain peaks as high as 19,000 feet, and temperatures that swing from well below freezing to 133 degrees Fahrenheit, archaea survives. Part of the mystery is just how they create their energy to live. Scientists speculate they convert gasses such as carbon monoxide and dimethyl sulfide into energy, but this won't be confirmed until further studies are concluded.
The area is also exposed to high amounts of ultraviolent radiation, which also mimics the Martian environment.
The archaea of the Atacama region is of interest to scientists because if organisms can live on the freezing cold, oxygen and water deprived volcanic peaks, then they can probably also live on the peaks and plains of Mars.
Owing to this new research, scientists know for certain that life in a Martian environment is possible. As for finding it, that remains to be seen. It must first exist, and second be detected by robotic spacecraft. Finally, it would have to be confirmed by follow up observations before any conclusions could be made.
The first of those observations may begin later this year as the rover Curiosity touches down and begins work. If the rover does find life, scientists expect it to have a lot in common with the archaea of Earth.
© 2012, Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: archaea, Andes, life on Mars, Opportunity, rover, NASA, research, extremeophiles
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