The Atacama desert looks a lot like Mars

Atacama desert

The Atacama Desert in Chile is one of the driest places on the planet. An environment surprisingly similar to that seen on the red planet. Here, micro-organisms manage to survive, thus suggesting the possibility of a microbial life on Mars.

It is very hot and it only rains once in a decade. A priori on paper, it is difficult to imagine a prosperous life on the arid lands of Atacama. And yet, the driest desert in the world — also the closest to the conditions on the red planet — actually houses microbial life forms, according to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Genomic analyzes carried out by researchers at the University of Berlin in Germany have made it possible to identify several autochthonous types of microbial life. They are basically bacteria, which have managed to adapt to this hostile environment, dormant for years, before reactivating to reproduce once rain has fallen.

“In the past, researchers have found dying organisms on the surface as well as DNA remnants. But this is the first time anyone has managed to identify a persistent form of life in the land of the Atacama Desert,” says Dirk Schulze-Makuch, lead author of this work. “We believe that these microbial communities can sleep for hundreds or even thousands of years in conditions very close to what would be found on a planet like Mars, before returning to life when it rains,” he says. . “If life can persist in the driest environment on Earth, there is a good chance it can be dormant on Mars in the same way. ”

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Oceans and lakes existed on Mars billions of years ago, before the planet’s atmosphere was literally blown away by the Sun. Of course, it should be kept in mind that as ruthless as the Atacama might be, it is still not Mars – which is inconceivably drier and colder. But hope remains. “We know there is frozen water in the Martian soil and recent research strongly suggests nocturnal snowfall and other moisture near the surface,” the researcher notes. “If life has evolved on Mars, our research suggests that it could be tucked under the surface. “

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Andrei Santov

Andrei, a sociologist by profession, born in Russia but currently located in UK, covers mostly European and Russia-related news for The Talking Democrat.