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Mars Earth Science

Scientists Find Life In 'Mars-Like' Chilean Desert ( 54

An anonymous reader writes: In 1938, CBS radio aired Orson Welles' dramatization of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds ; the broadcast was livened up by periodic "news bulletins" reporting strange activity on Mars and in New Jersey. There may or may have not been men on Mars at the time, and later opinions also differ on whether the broadcast caused widespread panic across the U.S. Eighty years later, scientists are again claiming to have found evidence on earth of Martian life. Well, not exactly Martian life... Washington State University reports: "For the first time, researchers have seen life rebounding in the world's driest desert, demonstrating that it could also be lurking in the soils of Mars. Led by Washington State University planetary scientist Dirk Schulze-Makuch, an international team studied the driest corner of South America's Atacama Desert, where decades pass without any rain. Scientists have long wondered whether microbes in the soil of this hyperarid environment, the most similar place on Earth to the Martian surface, are permanent residents or merely dying vestiges of life, blown in by the weather. Billions of years ago, Mars had small oceans and lakes where early lifeforms may have thrived. As the planet dried up and grew colder, these organisms could have evolved many of the adaptations lifeforms in the Atacama soil use to survive on Earth, Schulze-Makuch said. '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,' he said. 'If life ever evolved on Mars, our research suggests it could have found a subsurface niche beneath today's severely hyper-arid surface.'" The study has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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Scientists Find Life In 'Mars-Like' Chilean Desert

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Love it!!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ... so this Chilean desert has an atmosphere of 3 mBars of mainly CO2, does it?

    • by Viol8 ( 599362 )

      Don't forget the high UV levels due to no ozone layer and the soil stuffed full of highly oxidising perchlorates that would quickly destroy any known cell. But apart from all that , yes, mars is identical to the atacama desert.

      • You're probably right, but I can't help but be reminded of this witty line in "The Martian Chronicles" where the Martians think Earth 'could never support life because ... there's far too much oxygen in their atmosphere', indicating they're based on radically different biochemistry from us. []

        This alternation between comic and tragic is all over The Martian Chronicles. Like, in "Ylla," Yll says that Earth could never support life because "Our scientists have said there's far too much oxygen in their atmosphere" (43). That's comic because it's dead wrong--it's oxygen that makes life possible on Earth.

        • Funnily enough, the oxygenation of earth was a big disaster for the predominant life forms of the time, it's a toxic waste product to them.
          • It's like in the Tripods trilogy where the aliens breathe a gas that sounds like chlorine and like room temperature and baths much hotter than humans can tolerate. The food they eat seems to be quite different from anything humans can eat too


            • Yeah, sci fi and mixing ecosystems is kind of difficult speculation. Unlike War of the Worlds, the Tripod trilogy doesn't deal with their flora interacting. In the former, though, instead of making the aliens ill, our microbes would probably either be unable to affect them at all, or conversely rapidly coat them in a biofilm and dissolve them (likewise us reacting to any microbes they brought with them).
        • by tomhath ( 637240 )
          Science Fiction, emphasis on Fiction. As in fake, not real.
      • I don't know about the UV levels, but "Naturally occurring perchlorate at its most abundant can be found comingled with deposits of sodium nitrate in the Atacama Desert..." (Wikipedia "perchlorate" page)
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I always have a problem with moving from "we found life on Earth in pretty harsh environment" to "This means there could be life on Mars or Europa or somewhere else similar".
    Life ADAPTS, that's what it does, some offsprings will always wonder where their "parents" didn't, and they will adapt to places that were unhabitable before.
    But something tells me life needs a nurturing environment FIRST, to appear, solidify and survive past a point of no return, where it can't be wiped out that easily by the next stor

  • So they found a desert that isn't protected by an atmosphere or magnetosphere and is being blasted with radiation? Wow!
  • There's life thriving in the boiling temperatures of volcanic vents at the bottom of the sea of all places. One of the most inhatible places on the planet. Haven't we already established that life thrives in places we never thought possible?
  • Since when is Earth a good approximation for Mars? Sure, if you ignore everything else, dry is dry. If you want to study Mars, do that. Don't be such a planet bigot and say "they all look the same to me".

  • You're all missing the main point here. What would be more likely to generate funding?

    1. Study of microbiological life in the Atacama Desert.
    2. The possibility of life on Mars explored by studying Mars like conditions on Earth.

    Take your pick.

  • You could well believe that the place is utterly sterile; if you pick up a handful of dirt it'll have no visible or olfactory signs of life in it. To the naked senses it's just like opening the pack of desiccant silica that came with your camera. In the Atatcama trash and even toilet paper from hikers blows around for years -- archaeologists have even found pre-Columbian textiles there still intact after half a millenium. The only life visible there is within a few hundred meters of the ocean, fed by m

Experience varies directly with equipment ruined.