The idea of life on Mars never gets old, but while we know it would never involve little green men, we’ve never really known what we might find. When a Mars training mission recently unearthed a thriving world of microbes below the Atacama desert in Chile, however, we got a much better idea.
The Atacama desert is ultra-arid. It gets rain just a few times every century, and the soil is full of salts similar to those found on the Red Planet — which is why it’s used as a testing base for Mars missions.
But recently a team of researchers from the centre for Astrobiology in Madrid, Spain, set out to test a Signs of Life Detector that will be used to hunt for life on Mars, and unearthed a huge, thriving colony of microbes beneath the desert’s surface, reports New Scientist.
These newly discovered microbes live up to five meters below the surface, and survive because of microscopic films of water that form on salt crystals in the soil. According to the researchers, the newly found microbes live too deep to use sunlight as fuel. Instead, the scientists suggest that they use chemicals like acetic acid and formic acid to live, and probably respire using something other than oxygen.
Image: Parro et al./CAB/SINC