As NASA’s Perseverance rover is rolling on Martian territory, one of the biggest questions scientists face is where to look first so that we find the evidence of alien life the quickest, if it existed at all. Now, new research shows that if life ever existed on Mars, how it would have looked like. To answer the question, scientists at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the National University of Costa Rica tried to find places on earth that are most similar to Martian territory yet hold life. They visited the crater lake Laguna Caliente of the Poás Volcano in Costa Rica, which is one of the most hostile environments for life to exist on Earth, reported sciencealert.com. The lake contains ultra-acidic water, toxic metals and the temperature of the lake spans from comfortable to boiling temperatures.
On top of it, because the lake is volcanic, sudden recurrent explosions keep filling the lake with steam, rock and ash. Yet, scientists were able to find a few types of microorganisms inhabiting the lake. Scientists were following up on a 2013 study that had found that there was only one species of microorganisms – Acidiphilium – in the lake. But after nine years, while the population was still dominated by Acidiphilium, there was more biodiversity than the last time, indicating the growth of life despite such harsh conditions.
According to scientists, despite there being only a few types of microorganisms, there was “a potential multitude of ways for them to survive,” said Justin Wang, the first author of the study, in a statement. Wang and his teammates believe that the microbes manage to survive in the extremely hostile volcanic lake by staying on the fringes of the lake when the eruptions are happening. “This is when having a relatively wide array of genes would be useful,” he added.
The researchers say that their study provides a framework for how ‘Earth life’ would have existed on Mars if Mars ever had a life that emerged in a way similar to life on Earth. Scientists hope that their research will guide Mars missions and find better targets to look for evidence of life on Mars. According to Wang, there are some good targets on the Jezero crater of Mars, where the Perseverance is roving right now. The study was published on January 28 in Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences.