Research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has claimed that life on Mars is very much possible, in light of discoveries made in the Atacama Desert.
The desert, which can go decades without seeing rain, was believed to be barren of life and is the place on earth that most closely resembles the surface of Mars. Though some microbes had been found there in the past, it was believed they were not native to the area, but rather had been blown there from elsewhere.
However, the new discoveries indicate that the microbes may indeed be native to the desert after all. Dr Schulze-Makuch and his team from Washington State University first ventured towards the Atacama in 2015, where, against all odds, they experienced wet weather. Once the showers subsided, the scientists discovered a huge spike in biological activity in the formerly barren soil.
Further experimentation revealed a number of indigenous species of microbial life, adapted to live in the desert conditions that had until now been thought of as unsurvivable. When the team returned in 2016 and 2017, they saw that the microbes that had been brought to life by the rain were now returning to a kind of dormant state, having been once again deprived of water.
Dr Schulze-Makuch said: “In the past, researchers have found dying organisms near the surface and remnants of DNA but this is really the first time that anyone has been able to identify a persistent form of life living in the soil of the Atacama Desert.
“We believe these microbial communities can lay dormant for hundreds or even thousands of years in conditions very similar to what you would find on a planet like Mars and then come back to life when it rains.”
“Our research tell[s] us that if life can persist in Earth’s driest environment there is a good chance it could be hanging in there on Mars in a similar fashion.
“We know there is water frozen in the Martian soil and recent research strongly suggests nightly snowfalls and other increased moisture events near the surface.
“If life ever evolved on Mars, our research suggests it could have found a subsurface niche beneath today’s severely hyper-arid surface.”
Many breakthroughs regarding life on Mars have been made in recent years and this new information is no different. With mounting evidence that alien life is not as farfetched an idea as we may have thought, the question seems to be changing. It is no longer a question of if there is life, but when we will find it