All Dried Up
Scientists found another possible place to look for extraterrestrial life on Mars. The Red Planet, recently discovered to have water just beneath its surface, could be dotted with puddles of mud with a high concentration of salts.
Investigating similar salty mud puddles on Earth, Wichita State University astrobiologists found that bacterial life could survive even after getting completely dried out, according to Space.com. The finding doesn’t by any means guarantee that there is or ever was life on Mars, but it does suggest that Mars is more hospitable than scientists previously assumed.
The scientists, who presented their research at an American Society for Microbiology conference on Friday, put bacteria in jars with a solution of saltwater similar to that found on Mars, per Space.com. They then left them to dry out and rehydrate as the water evaporated and condensed with changing temperatures, as it would on Mars.
“We have the first data showing the growth of bacteria after drying and then rehydration through humidity alone, in the presence of salts that absorb moisture from the air,” lead scientist Mark Schneegurt told Space.com.
Next up, Schneegurt told Space.com, is to get the experimental conditions closer and closer to those of Mars in order to better test the limits of these particularly resilient microbes.
READ MORE: How Martian Microbes Could Survive in the Salty Puddles of the Red Planet [Space.com]
Astronauts may hibernate on trips to Mars
Astronauts traveling to Mars in the near future may have to hibernate, according to a European Space Agency (ESA) scientist.
In interview with The Telegraph, Professor Mark McCaughrean, senior science consultant to the ESA Board of Science, revealed that hibernation could reduce the need for large amounts of food during the seven-month trip to Mars.
The idea is that you sleep while traveling and use much less consumables.
Sleep is not the same as hibernation, because if you hibernate, it lowers your body temperature and reduces everything else, oxygen, and so on.
Placing astronauts in this state can also prevent fights between astronauts during the tiring journey, according to Professor McCaughrean.
If you have 100 people within a few hundred cubic meters for seven, nine months, you will have 20 people at the end, because they will do the Hunger Games. They will kill themselves.
While the idea of hibernating astronauts may seem absurd, ESA is already conducting experiments on animals.
Professor McCaughrean said:
We are now experimenting with artificial hibernation to numb someone for seven months and not worry about food. We are talking about how we would do that. You do this with animal testing and we have programs to analyze how it would happen.
However, there are several obstacles to be overcome before these tests can be performed on humans.
He even said:
We are nowhere near that, because there are all ethical questions about how you would do it.
NASA will search for fossils on Mars
The Mars 2020 spacecraft will investigate an intriguing type of mineral deposit known to produce fossils on Earth.
And when you think of fossils, you probably imagine T. rex skulls and sauropod femurs. NASA’s Mars 2020 spacecraft will be searching for fossils on Mars, but not those fossils.
NASA highlighted a new study in the magazine Icarus this week pointing out some fascinating formations around the inner edge of the Jezero Crater, the spacecraft’s planned landing site. The agency compares these concentrated carbonate mineral deposits to a tub ring around what was once a lake 3.5 billion years ago.
On Earth, carbonates help form structures that are tough enough to survive in fossil form for billions of years, including seashells, corals, and some stromatolites – rocks formed on this planet by ancient microbial life along ancient shorelines, where sunlight and water were abundant.
NASA does not expect to find sea shells, but the spacecraft will closely examine the stromatolites. Scientists would be thrilled to discover signs of past microbial life on the currently inhospitable planet. The Jeep’s investigation of carbonate deposits may also tell us more about how Mars made the transition from an aqueous to an arid place.
The probe jeep Mars 2020 is developing at NASA with a planned release mid-next year. If it stays on schedule, the spacecraft will reach the crater in February 2021.
Scientists do not know whether carbonates formed in the ancient lake or could have been deposited previously. We will have to wait to find out more. It will be a milestone worth waiting for.
Site of NASA’s Mars 2020 Mission Could Contain Fossilized Signs of Life
The landing site selected for NASA’s upcoming Mars 2020 rover could well be one of the best chances we have of discovering whether the Red Planet was once home to life and whether it could be again.
The 28-mile (45km) wide Jezero crater was selected as the landing site for the new rover in late 2018, and has been found to contain vast deposits of hydrated silica and minerals called carbonates, according to a newly published study.
Once the site of a lake more than 3.5 billion years ago, scientists now believe that Jezero, thanks to its carbonate supplies, will likely contain structures that can survive for billions of years, such as shells, coral and certain types of rock formed by microbial life.
Deltas here on Earth are known to be hubs for preserved biomarkers and signs of life, and the presence of the hydrated silica suggests Mars is likely to be even better in this regard.
“Using a technique we developed that helps us find rare, hard-to-detect mineral phases in data taken from orbiting spacecraft, we found two outcrops of hydrated silica within Jezero crater,” said the study’s lead author, Jesse Tarnas, a PhD student at Brown University in Rhode Island, US.
We know from Earth that this mineral phase is exceptional at preserving microfossils and other biosignatures, so that makes these outcrops exciting targets for the rover to explore.
The intel about the site, and the surrounding delta, replete with mineral deposits, was provided by data from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) instrument that flies aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
“The material that forms the bottom layer of a delta is sometimes the most productive in terms of preserving biosignatures,” explained Jack Mustard, professor at Brown and study co-author.
“So if you can find that bottomset layer, and that layer has a lot of silica in it, that’s a double bonus,” he added.
The rover will land on Mars on February 18, 2021 when it will begin taking rock core samples that will be deposited in metal tubes on the Martian surface, waiting to be shipped back to Earth for analysis during a later mission.
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