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Life on Mars Deep

Life May Lie Deep Below Mars Surface

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For those interested in the big question ‘Does Life Exist on Mars’?, it is an anxious wait to hear reports coming back from the Mars Curiosity Rover.  To date, the Rover has been taking surface samples, analysing rocks and dirt to determine if Mars does, or could ever have supported life.

However, in terms of finding direct evidence of life, Geochemist Jan Amend of the University of Southern California, says that the Rover literally ‘barely scratches the surface’.  Its’ drill can only penetrate down a few inches; but Amend believes that life may exist half a mile or more beneath the surface.  This is based on the fact that evidence has been found of ancient streams or lakes that existed on Mars in the past.  This means that there could very likely still be water deep below the surface.

One way to explore this hypothesis is to dig deep below the surface of Earth where there are similar conditions to Mars (dry, high-pressure, low-nutrient environments), for example Death Valley in California, and to see whether water, and indeed life, can be found.  If so, it suggests that the same could be true on Mars.  Amend’s lab at the University of Southern California has now been funded by NASA to carry out this experimentation as a precursor to searching for extraterrestrial life on other planets and moons.

Over the next five years, Amend’s team will lower biological probes, called SEALs (Subsurface Explorer for Assessment of Life) into boreholes and mine shafts and will gather data in the hope of finding what have been called “intraterrestrials”.

By April Holloway

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