Evidence of past life on Mars could found in Northern Chile, say scientists

Hot spring deposits in Chile have been found to be very similar to deposits found on the surface of Mars

Matt Payton
Thursday 24 November 2016 19:15
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Geoscientist Jack Farmer studying silica deposits at El Tatio hot springs in Chile
Geoscientist Jack Farmer studying silica deposits at El Tatio hot springs in Chile

Scientists are hoping to discover evidence of past life on Mars by studying a series of hot springs in Northern Chile.

Steve Ruff and Jack Farmer from Arizona State University found remarkable similarities between ancient hot springs in the Gusev crater on Mars and the El Tatio hot springs near the edge of the Atacama desert.

The Atacama desert is one of the highest places on earth and is seen as the most Mars-like area on earth. The springs themselves are at an altitude of 4,300 metres above sea level.

El Tatio experiences sub-freezing temperatures every night and endure lots of ultraviolet light during the day through thin dry air - conditions very similar to that on Mars.

The site near the Martian Home Plate plateau i was first discovered by Nasa's Spirit rover and show fingerlike structures that form in hot spring deposits through biological and non-biological processes.

Professor Ruff said: "We went to El Tatio looking for comparisons with the features found by Spirit at Home Plate.

"Our results show that the conditions at El Tatio produce silica deposits with characteristics that are among the most Mars-like of any silica deposits on Earth."

The ASU team are studying biosignatures at the Chilean springs that could also be present on Mars which could help explain the planet's natural history.

What will a home on Mars look like?

Biosignatures are traces that indicate the presence of life right now or in the past.

While fossils are the most obvious form of biosignatures - others include organic molecules trapped in rocks or structures made up of compacted microorganisms.

As no fossils have yet been found on Mars, any evidence of past or present life is expected to be microscopic.

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