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Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics

Understanding the possibility of life on Mars in Earth’s active volcanoes

May 23, 2018

Astrobiology fieldwork in active Costa Rican volcanoes helps us understand similar past environments on Mars, as identified by rovers and orbiters. The Poás Volcano’s Laguna Caliente is one of Earth’s most dynamic, extreme environments (acidity can reach 100 million times that of tap water and temperatures can reach almost boiling).

LASP scientists Brian Hynek and Ramy El-Maarry, along with graduate student Sarah Black, have been examining this environment since 2013. Their studies yield insights into microbes that could have inhabited ancient Martian hot springs and represent the first time Laguna Caliente waters and sediments have ever been sampled for microbiology. They recovered DNA that revealed a single acid-tolerant bacterium (acidiphilium), which is likely a novel  organism because related species cannot tolerate such acidity. The ecosystem exhibits perhaps the lowest diversity of any described to date on Earth. Given similar conditions on ancient Mars, this analog work provides keys to the organisms and lack of diversity that might have existed there.

These results were recently published in the journal Astrobiology and a link to the press release is located here:

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