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article imageNew focal point for looking for life on Mars

By Tim Sandle     Dec 14, 2016 in Science
Houston - Is there life on Mars? The question these days is more ‘has there ever been life on Mars?’ In the search for past life (probably bacterial), scientists have selected a new ‘hot spot’ on the planet to investigate.
The reason why many scientists think Mars once supported life is because of the position of the planet relative the Sun and the indication that there were once oceans on the red planet.
Although no space probe that has landed on Mars has given any indication there ever was life (markings on rocks that might have been microbial have proved inconclusive) does not mean the hunt is over. Very few rocks have been turned over to examine the underside and this remains an area that NASA are interested in, to probe for potential life.
With this probing, data from Arizona State University suggests that a specific point on Mars, located close to the large Gusev Crater, shares several characteristics with a hot spring on Earth, found in El Tatio, Chile. The researchers recently visited Chilie to assess the hot spring and make comparisons with the known data relating to Mars. One reason why the hot spring in Chilie is of interest is because it is located 14,000 feet above sea level, which gives it a similar elevation to the Martian area. Other comparable features include the fact that at night temperatures at El Tatio drop below freezing; additionally, during the daytime the area receives considerable exposure to ultraviolet light from the Sun. The area in Mars will be subject to similar environmental factors.
Of interest are finger-shaped silica deposits in the region on Mars which appear strikingly similar to the same deposits produced around the hot spring. Such deposits can arise from biological, as well as non-biological, activity. The silica deposits on Mars were first detected by the Martian rover Spirit in the last decade. These could, perhaps, be a sign of a ‘bio-signature’, an indicator that life may once have been present.
This is of course speculative, although it does pin-point an area on Mars for future exploration. In 2020, Laboratory Roots reports, a new rover will touch down on Mars. The precise area where the rover will touch down has yet to be determined.
The new location has been described in the journal Nature Communications, in a paper titled “Silica deposits on Mars with features resembling hot spring biosignatures at El Tatio in Chile.”
In related news, NASA scientists believe they have found a significantly-sized ice deposit below the Martian surface that holds as much water as Lake Superior, the largest of the Earth’s Great Lakes.
More about Mars, martian, Hot spring, Life, Planets
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