A small stream in Dorset could offer a huge breakthrough in the search for life on Mars.
The UK county has very acidic sulphur streams, in which bacteria that have adapted to the extreme conditions live. As such, they can be a perfect testing ground for Mars – and anything that lives in them could mimic the same kind of life we might find on the red planet.
Now scientists studying one such stream in St Oswald’s Bay have found ancient traces of fatty acids in those streams. They are key building blocks of biological cells, suggesting that life might have flourished on Mars during its middle ages.
Nasa’s most stunning pictures of space
If the ingredients of life could be found inside those harsh streams, then it might also have once been found on the red planet, scientists suggest.
Studying the rocks in the Dorset stream, the scientists found the iron-rich mineral goethite, inside which could be found a host of microbes. Goethite turns to haematite – the same mineral that is common on Mars and gives the planet its red colour.
Just as it does here on Earth, that rock might contain traces of biological life that once lived on Mars, scientists said. And that might also explain why we have been yet to find it, since we now know which rocks to focus on.
“Mars harboured water billions of years ago, meaning some form of life might have thrived there,” said Mark Sephton, head of Imperial College London’s Department of Earth Science and Engineering. “If life existed before the water dried up, it would probably have left remains that are preserved to this day in Martian rock.
“However, we have yet to find convincing traces of organic matter that would indicate previous life on the red planet.”
By applying the findings from the stream to the conditions on Mars, scientists found that there could be 12,000 Olympic-sized pools of organic matter there.