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Mars rover sensors will not be delicate sufficient to seek out indicators of life



Whereas testing Mars rover sensors within the Atacama desert, researchers inadvertently discovered a wide range of unclassifiable microorganisms referred to as “the dark biome”


21 February 2023

A area of the Atacama desert referred to as Purple Stone

Armando Azua-Bustos

The scientific devices we have now despatched to Mars could not be capable to detect indicators of life there. Assessments of those devices on samples from the Atacama desert in Chile have proven that they will not be delicate sufficient to identify organic materials, even when it does exist on Mars.

Armando Azua-Bustos on the Spanish Astrobiology Centre in Madrid and his colleagues took samples in a area of the desert referred to as Purple Stone, the place the mud is crimson as a result of it is stuffed with hematite, the identical mineral that provides Mars its rusty color. “This is probably the most Mars-like place on Earth,” says Azua-Bustos. “Being there is almost like being on Mars, except for the colour of the sky.”

After they used state-of-the-art scientific devices – the kind solely obtainable in laboratories on Earth to analyse the make-up of their samples, they discovered as much as 1 microgram of DNA per gram of soil. This included DNA from 19 species of micro organism and two fungi.

Nonetheless, almost half of the microbial DNA didn’t match something within the genetic databases we have now, main the researchers to consult with these microbes as “the dark microbiome”. This might imply that they’re organisms that haven’t beforehand been found, or that they’re relics from organisms that lived within the space tons of of thousands and thousands of years in the past. “We know the microorganisms are there, we have the sequences, but we cannot tell you what they are,” says Azua-Bustos.

When the researchers examined their samples utilizing devices similar to those on present Mars rovers and people deliberate for the close to future, these devices may barely detect any microbial materials, darkish or in any other case. “If you were an alien coming to Earth and you happened to land in the Atacama desert with instruments like the ones we have on Mars, you might say Earth is uninhabited,” says Azua-Bustos. “If those instruments are not able to detect the things that we know are on this site, how are they going to see anything on Mars where we don’t even know what we’re going to find?”

If there was ever life on Mars, which means our spacecraft most likely wouldn’t be capable to discover convincing proof of it. “We must be cautious about interpreting absence of strong evidence of life as evidence of its absence,” wrote Carol Stoker at NASA Ames Analysis Middle in California in a remark piece accompanying the paper. To make sure about any detection of indicators of life on Mars, we’ll must deliver samples again to Earth to analyse them – a process which NASA plans to undertake within the late 2020s.

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