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Antarctic Saltwater Provides Hope for Life on Mars

posted: 04/28/15
by: Discovery.com Staff
Antarctica. View looking across cliffs sprinkled with snow, other snow topped mountains, gray sky in background.
Wolfgang Bayer/DCI

Microbes thriving in the briny aquifers of a particularly harsh region of Antarctica are giving researchers hope that life could survive in other similarly harsh ecosystems throughout the solar system, according to a new study published in Nature Communications.

Supported by the National Science Foundation, study lead author Dr. Jill Mikucki and her team used a helicopter-mounted electromagnetic sensor to locate what they believe to be microbial ecosystems that developed deep below the frozen surfaces of Antarctica.

The microbes thrive in the salty brine of subglacial aquifers, a harsh environment similar to those astronomers have identified on Mars. The salty brine has a notably lower freezing point than freshwater; thus, even in the bitterly cold temperatures of Antarctica (or Mars, possibly), it does not freeze.

"Over billions of years of evolution, microbes seem to have adapted to conditions in almost all surface and near-surface environments on Earth. Tiny pore spaces filled with hyper-saline brine staying liquid down to five degrees Fahrenheit may pose one of the greatest challenges to microbes," said study co-author Slawek Tulaczyk.

Click here for more information from the National Science Foundation

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