LASP-led research has discovered microbes living in a toxic volcanic lake that may rank as one of the harshest environments on Earth. Their findings, published recently online, could guide scientists looking for signs of ancient life on Mars.
The team, led by LASP planetary scientist Brian Hynek, braved second-degree burns, sulfuric acid fumes, and the threat of eruptions to collect samples of water from the aptly-named Laguna Caliente. Nestled in Costa Rica’s Poás Volcano, this body of water is 10 million times more acidic than tap water and can reach near boiling temperatures. It also resembles the ancient hot springs that dotted the surface of early Mars, Hynek said.
The Costa Rican lake supports living organisms—but only one. Hynek and his colleagues found microbes belonging to just a single species of bacteria in the lake water, a rock-bottom level of diversity.
Mars turned cold and dry long ago, but LASP-led research at the University of Colorado Boulder has unveiled evidence of an ancient lake that likely represents some of the last potentially habitable surface water ever to exist on the Red Planet.
The study, published Thursday in the journal Geology, examined an 18-square-mile chloride salt deposit (roughly the size of the city of Boulder) in the planet’s Meridiani region near the Mars Opportunity rover’s landing site. As seen on Earth in locations such as Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats, large-scale salt deposits are considered to be evidence of evaporated bodies of water.
NASA has awarded a team led by the University of Colorado Boulder, which includes LASP scientists, more than $7 million to study aspects of the origins, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe.
The team, led by CU-Boulder Professor Alexis Templeton of the geological sciences department, will be researching what scientists call “rock-powered life.” Rocky planets store enormous amounts of chemical energy, that, when released through the interaction of rocks and water, have the ability to power living systems on Earth as well as on other planets like Mars, said Templeton, principal investigator on the effort.
LASP scientist and CU-Boulder Department of Geological Sciences Assistant Professor, Brian Hynek, led a recent study detailing the earliest history of the development of the Tharsis volcanoes on Mars. The Tharsis region, one of the most prominent features on Mars, covers one quarter of the planet, rises 10 km above the surrounding flatlands, and has had near-continuous volcanic activity for roughly 4 billion years.
A University of Colorado at Boulder research team has discovered the first definitive evidence of shorelines on Mars, an indication of a deep, ancient lake there and a finding with implications for the discovery of past life on the Red Planet. Estimated to be more than 3 billion years old, the lake appears to have… Read more »