Experts Claim It Could Be Impossible to Find Life on Mars

Things are getting complicated to find life on Mars. Why is this happening?

Gabriela Castillo

Despite recent scientific advances, research conducted by experts from the Center of Astrobiology on an ancient riverbed in the Atacama Desert in Chile suggests that finding traces of life on Mars will be more difficult than expected.

Why did the experts come to this conclusion? According to researchers from the Center of Astrobiology (CAB), the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), and the National Institute of Aerospace Technology (INTA), current and upcoming life detection instruments on Mars may not be sensitive enough to detect life on the red planet.

Maras - experts claim it could be impossible to find life on mars

Can Life Be Found on Mars?

In the study, whose conclusions were published in the journal Nature Communications, researcher Armando Azua-Bustos, from the CSIC in the Department of Planetary Habitability at CAB, along with an international group of researchers, stated that, depending on the type of potential evidence of life on Mars, it could be difficult or even impossible to detect with the current generation of instruments.

Researchers have described a new Mars analog in the Atacama Desert, called “Piedra Roja,” located in northern Chile, and all the data indicates that it is the remnant of an ancient river delta that formed under arid conditions in the Jurassic, more than 100 million years ago.

Mars - experts claim it could be impossible to find life on mars

In addition to finding that “Piedra Roja” is made up of a variety of sedimentary layers of sandstone and clay typical of a riverbed, the researchers have determined the abundant presence of hematite, an iron oxide that gives Mars its characteristic red color. They have found a place that geologically resembles the areas explored by NASA’s Perseverance rover, and has also discovered a variety of difficult-to-classify microorganisms in “Piedra Roja.” They have proposed the term “Dark Microbiome” by analogy with the “dark matter” in the Universe.

A variety of “bio-signatures” (substances that may indicate the presence of life in a location) were also found in “Piedra Roja”, at the detection limit of the instruments that can be found in a research laboratory. “The remarkable thing was that when using a variety of instruments that are on Mars or will be soon,” Azua-Bustos said, “and depending on the bio-signature being searched for, several of these instruments could barely detect them, or simply were not able to do so.” These findings, according to CAB, reveal the importance of bringing Mars samples to Earth to use the most powerful detection techniques available in laboratories.

In fact, NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and other institutions are already working to bring Mars samples to Earth. “It is very important to have Earth models as similar to Mars as possible to understand how different bio-signatures have been preserved and to fine-tune the procedures and technology to find them,” said researcher Víctor Parro, co-author of the study.

Story originally written in Spanish by Miguel Fernández in Cultura Colectiva News.