Featured Image: Top: Valley of the Moon, Atacama Desert, San Pedro, Chile, Earth. Image courtesy Alf Igel. Bottom: Jezero Crater, Syrtis Major Quadrangle, Mars. Image courtesy Kevin M. Gill.
Paper: Gradient studies reveal the true drivers of extreme life in the Atacama Desert
Authors: D. Boy, R. Moeller, L. Sauheitl, F. Schaarschmidt, S. Rapp, L. van den Brink, S. Gschwendtner, R. Godoy Borquez, Francisco J. Matus, M. A. Horn, G. Guggenberger, J. Boy
Space. The final frontier. Or is it? Boy and colleagues are not presenting the voyages of the Starship Enterprise, rather the clever investigation of scientists on Earth. Their continuing mission: to understand the development of life in extreme environments, and how certain places on Earth geologically represent Mars and other planet analogues. While Boy and colleagues are limited on intergalactic travel, their recent work clearly the defines expectations, inferences, and consequences of using a site on Earth as a replacement for another planet. They conclude that the nearby climate and environment surrounding these analogue locations may lead to inaccurate comparisons, by altering soil moisture and salt content, for example.
Continue reading “To understand Mars, scientists study Earth – but is this enough?”
Paper: Organic synthesis associated with serpentinization and carbonation on early Mars
Authors: Steele A, Benning LG, Wirth R, Schreiber A, Araki T, McCubbin FM, Fries MD, Nittler LR, Wang J, Hallis LJ, and Conrad PG.
The discovery of organic carbon in Martian meteorites has fueled scientific debates for more than four decades. Could these molecules be the chemical residue of Martian life?
Continue reading “Martian Past Revealed by New Analysis of 4 Billion-year-old Meteorite”
Featured image: a mushroom shaped volcanic plume arising from the explosive activity of Redoubt volcano, Alaska in 1990. Credit: R. Clucas.
Paper: Caldera Collapse and Volcanic Resurfacing in Arabia Terra Provide Hints of Vast Under-Recognized Early Martian Volcanism
Authors: Yin Yau Yoyo Chu, Joseph R. Michalski, Shawn P. Wright, A. Alexander G. Webb.
Mars is a planet of extreme highs and lows containing the solar system’s largest volcano – Olympus Mons – and the largest canyon system – Valles Marineris. Tharsis and Elysium, the planet’s two largest volcanic provinces, are young surface features that were built by basaltic volcanism throughout the Amazonian, the most recent geological era on Mars.
Continue reading “Ancient Explosive Volcanoes on Mars”
Featuring image: northern rim of Gale Crater viewed by Curiosity. NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS, public domain (CC0)
Paper: Day-night differences in Mars methane suggest nighttime containment at Gale crater
Authors: C. R. Webster, P. R. Mahaffy, J. Pla-Garcia, S. C. R. Rafkin, J. E. Moores, S. K. Atreya, G. J. Flesch, C. A. Malespin, S. M. Teinturier, H. Kalucha, C. L. Smith, D. Viúdez-Moreiras and A. R. Vasavada
Methane is a gas often connected to life on Earth. NASA’s Mars rover reported the detection of methane, but discrepancies with other missions puzzled researchers. Is there methane on Mars or not? A new study tries to answer this question in a windy way.
Methane is a possible biosignature for extraterrestrial life and therefore, one of the goals of the Mars rover Curiosity was to search for methane. Curiosity was able to detect varying amounts of this gas over the years, but the existence of methane in the Martian atmosphere could not be confirmed by analysis from satellites. Now, Christopher Webster and his group were able to explain the variations as well as the discrepancy between ground-based and satellite analysis by developing a detailed model of the wind systems at Gale crater.
Continue reading “Mysterious methane on Mars”
Article: Fatty Acid Preservation in Modern and Relict Hot-Spring Deposits in Iceland, with Implications for Organics Detection on Mars
Authors: Williams, Amy J., Kathleen L. Craft, Maëva Millan, Sarah Stewart Johnson, Christine A. Knudson, Marisol Juarez Rivera, Amy C. McAdam, Dominique Tobler, and John Roma Skok.
Continue reading “The Search for Life on Mars Begins on Earth”
The quest to find signs of life on Mars is one of the greatest scientific challenges of our time. For some researchers, the quest is a chemical one. A search for the biomolecular remains of life that may have lived when Mars was warmer and wetter billions of years ago. However, finding and recognizing molecular fossils is no easy task, even for a rover as sophisticated as Curiosity. Now, new research from Dr. Amy Williams and her colleagues provides fresh insights into where Mars rovers should look for these fossils, what the signatures may look like, and a simple procedure for how to detect them.
Featured image: A person exploring the rocks of a cave on Earth, Pixabay.
Paper: Earth-like Habitable Environments in the Subsurface of Mars
Authors: J.D. Tarnas, J.F. Mustard, B. Sherwood Lollar, V. Stamenković, K.M. Cannon, J.-P. Lorand, T.C. Onstott, J.R. Michalski, O. Warr.
Mars exploration has been looking “up” recently: the Ingenuity helicopter performed the first powered flight on another planet, and veteran rover Curiosity gave us stunning images from the top of Mount Mercou. But if we want to look for life on Mars, it might be time for us to look down instead. New research suggests that life on present day Mars could be sustained by chemical energy produced through the interaction between water and rocks deep underground, like it is here on Earth.
Continue reading “The only way is… down? Groundwater on Mars could support microbial life in the present day”
Article: Amagmatic hydrothermal systems on Mars from radiogenic heat
Authors: L. Ojha, S. Karunatillake, S. Karimi, and J. Buffo
Many people are familiar with Yellowstone National Park’s famous geyser, Old Faithful – but did you know that the heat fueling Old Faithful’s eruptions are from magma chambers that warm up underground fluids until they shoot out of the ground? Hydrothermal systems like this are found in other places, too, and can be fueled by different kinds of heat sources. In fact, scientists at Rutgers University have recently identified one such heat source – the heat generated by radioactive decay from certain chemical elements – that could help answer questions about whether liquid water, a critical component for life as we know it, could exist on Mars.
Continue reading “Life on Mars: a non-traditional source for warmer waters”
Featured Image: Artist’s impression of ESA’s ExoMars rover ‘Rosalind Franklin’ on the surface of Mars. Credit: ESA.
Paper: Oxia Planum: The Landing Site for the ExoMars “Rosalind Franklin” Rover Mission: Geological Context and Prelanding Interpretation
Authors: Quantin-Nataf et al., 2021
We are entering a new dawn of Mars exploration: Perseverance rover touched down on Mars earlier this year, which marks the start of what will be a decade-long effort to return samples from Mars. In 2022 the European Space Agency (ESA) will launch the ExoMars rover, which will team up with the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) to find evidence of past or present life on Mars.
Continue reading “Oxia Planum: ExoMars 2022 Landing Site”
Featured Image: Rock fracture from the Dresser Formation, Australia. Fluid inclusions are trapped in the white stripes. Image courtesy Ser Amantio di Nicolao, used with permission.
Paper: Ingredients for microbial life preserved in 3.5 billion-year-old fluid inclusions
Authors: Helge Mißbach, Jan-Peter Duda, Alfons M. van den Kerkhof, Volker Lüders, Andreas Pack, Joachim Reitner, Volker Thiel
Just a few weeks ago NASA made a historic landing of the Perseverance rover on Mars. This rover symbolizes our human drive for exploration and the need to find the origins of life to answer the big question—are we alone in the universe? In addition to extraterrestrial investigation and research, we can address this fundamental question here on our own planet by digging into extreme environments that are analogs for ancient Earth or other planets. These unusual environments, such as hydrothermal vents in our deepest oceans, boiling hot springs in Yellowstone, and prehistoric lakes in South America, can give us glimpses of ancient information and clues about to the ingredients of life. By discovering our own origins of life, we can begin to understand how it may evolve on other planets.
Continue reading “Prehistoric Microbial Meals Found in the Australian Outback”
Featured Image: Zircon grain under the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM). Image used with permission from Wikipedia (Emmanuel Roquette).
Article: The internal structure and geodynamics of Mars inferred from a 4.2-Gyr zircon record.
Authors: Maria M. Costa, Ninna K. Jensen, Laura C. Bouvier, James N. Connelly, Takashi Mikouchi, Matthew S. A. Horstwood, Jussi-Petteri Suuronen, Frédéric Moynier, Zhengbin Deng, Arnaud Agranier, Laure A. J. Martin, Tim E. Johnson, Alexander A. Nemchin, and Martin Bizzarro
While sitting in Geology 101 studying the geological time scale, most of us have gone through this experience where we imagined ourselves going back in time; visualizing mammoths passing by, dinosaurs hunting and fighting. But all these pictures start to become hazy and unclear when we reach close to 4 billion years. It is the time for which we have no rock records, and this is where zircons or what I would like to call “tiny survivors” comes in.
Continue reading “Tiny Crystals, Big Story: Time capsules from the Early Mars”