(ORDO NEWS) — Atacama is the second driest desert in the world, which is covered with rocks and dust, salt lakes and lava that flowed over arid surfaces towards the Andes.
If anyone were shown a photograph of her along with a photograph of the surface of Mars, they probably wouldn’t be able to notice much of a difference.
However, according to a new genetic analysis, this “lifeless” place may actually contain bizarre microorganisms that science has never seen before.
The report outlines evidence for the existence of life from DNA fragments. Although some of them were completely new, many of the organisms were very strange and difficult to identify.
“In almost half of the data we got, we couldn’t clearly tell what we had in our hands,” lead researcher Armando Azua-Bustos told The Washington Post.
So why were researchers looking for life in a place where there probably isn’t much of it?
The Atacama Desert doesn’t just look like Mars – it’s also the perfect testing ground for Martian hardware.
The specific site considered in this study is called the Red Stone and is made up of geological materials very similar to Mars.
The instruments used in the study were the same as those already in place (or planned to be installed) on Mars landers that will search for extraterrestrial life on the Red Planet.
Thus, by scouring the desert for life, researchers could test whether they could identify biomarkers and DNA with the same sensitivity as laboratory analysis.
The results showed that while they were able to detect many signs of life, the equipment may not be sensitive enough to definitively tell if there are any signs of ancient life in the Martian samples.
If very small amounts of DNA remain at the same level as in the Atacama Desert, rovers may not notice it. To fully confirm this, samples collected on Mars need to be sent to Earth for full analysis.
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