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Scientists doubt that technology sent to Mars will be able to detect life

The image on the left corresponds to the Jezero crater on the surface of Mars; the one on the right is the Jurassic fossil delta of Piedra Roja in the Atacama Desert of northwestern Chile, a popular geological analogue of Mars. | Fountain: NASA/JPL-CALTECH,ARMANDO AZUA-BU

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Tools are sent to Mars the collection and analysis of evidence for ancient life on the Red Planet may not be sensitive enough to make accurate estimates.

In an article published in Connection with natureA team of astrobiologists led by Alberto G. Firen, a visiting scientist in the Department of Astronomy at Cornell University, says that any organic material in Martian rocks may be difficult, if not impossible, to detect with today’s tools and techniques.

Firen — also a research professor at the Center for Astrobiology (CAB) in Madrid — and his team conducted tests on sedimentary rocks found in the Jurassic fossil delta of Piedra Roja in the Atacama Desert in northwestern Spain. Chilethe oldest and driest desert on Earth, whose composition makes it a popular geological counterpart Mars.

“Dark Microbiome”

For this work, the researchers conducted geological tests in Piedra Roja using four instruments that are currently or will soon be in operation. Mars.

They found that the Redstone samples exhibited numerous microorganisms of undetermined classification – what the researchers call the “dark microbiome” – and a mixture of biosignatures of modern and ancient microorganisms that could hardly be detected with modern laboratory equipment.

This showed the researchers that the instruments sent to Mars it may not be sensitive enough, depending on the instrument used and the organic compound being sought. In particular, “the possibility of obtaining false negative results when searching for life in Mars highlights the need for more powerful tools,” study lead author Armando Azua-Bustos, a postdoctoral fellow at Firen’s group at CAB, said in a statement.

It won’t be enough

According to the researchers, in order to “definitely determine whether life has ever existed on Mars”it is necessary either to install complex devices in Mars, about 53 million kilometers away, or to bring Martian samples to Earth. Both options are extremely difficult, according to Firen.

“You must decide whether it is more profitable to have limited analysis capabilities on the surface Mars to study a wide range of samples,” he said, “or have a limited number of samples to analyze with a wide range of the most advanced instruments on Earth.”

NASA is currently working with the European Space Agency and other agencies in an attempt to return Martian geological samples collected by the Perseverance rover to Earth. And Firen said that the first European explorer Marstitled Rosalind Franklin, coming out as early as 2028.

This European rover “will carry a drill with an unprecedented ability to reach a depth of 2 meters to analyze sediments better protected from the harsh conditions of the Martian surface,” he said. “If biosignals are better preserved at depth, as we hope, there will be more abundance and diversity in these deep samples, as well as better preservation of biosignals. Therefore, our instruments on the rover will have a better chance of detecting them.” (Europe Press)

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Source: RPP

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