Subscribe free to our newsletters via your
. 24/7 Space News .

Subscribe free to our newsletters via your

NASA Tests Life-Detection Drill in Earth's Driest Place
by Staff Writers
Moffett Field CA (SPX) Feb 29, 2016

Mary Beth Wilhelm (in white cleanroom suit) carefully samples ground-truth material obtained from the 2.2 meter depth science excavation pit, assisted by Jonathan Araya (Univ. de Antofagasta) and watched by ARADS co-investigators Jocelyn DiRuggiero (Johns Hopkins) and the SOLID instrument lead, Victor Parro (Centro de Astrobiologia, Spain). Image courtesy NASA. For a larger version of this image please go here.

In a harsh environment with very little water and intense ultraviolet radiation, most life in the extreme Atacama Desert in Chile exists as microbial colonies underground or inside rocks. Researchers at NASA hypothesize that the same may be true if life exists on Mars.

The cold and dry conditions on Mars open the possibility that evidence for life may be found below the surface where negative effects of radiation are mitigated, in the form of organic molecules known as biomarkers. But until humans set foot on the Red Planet, obtaining samples from below the surface of Mars will require the ability to identify a location of high probability for current or ancient life, place a drill, and control the operation robotically.

The Atacama Rover Astrobiology Drilling Studies (ARADS) project has just completed its first deployment after one month of fieldwork in the hyperarid core of the Atacama Desert, the "driest place on Earth." Despite being considerably warmer than Mars, the extreme dryness the soil chemistry in this region are remarkably similar to that of the Red Planet. This provides scientists with a Mars-like laboratory where they can study the limits of life and test drilling and life-detection technologies that might be sent to Mars in the future.

"Putting life-detection instruments in a difficult, Mars-analog environment will help us figure out the best ways of looking for past or current life on Mars, if it existed," said Dr. Brian Glass, a NASA Ames space scientist and the principal investigator of the ARADS project. "Having both subsurface reach and surface mobility should greatly increase the number of biomarker and life-target sites we can sample in the Atacama," Glass added.

More than 20 scientists from the United States, Chile, Spain, and France camped together miles from civilization and worked in extremely dry, 100+ degree heat with high winds during the first ARADS field deployment. Their work was primarily at Yungay Station, a mining ghost town at one of the driest places in the Atacama, owned by the University of Antofagasta in Chile.

Yungay has been a focal point for astrobiology studies in the last two decades. ARADS field scientists also evaluated two other Atacama sites - Salar Grande, an ancient dried-up lake composed of thick beds of salt, and Maria Elena, a similarly extremely dry region - to be considered along with Yungay as the host location for the future ARADS tests in 2017-19.

During this initial deployment, scientists put several technologies through the paces under harsh and unpredictable field conditions: a Mars-prototype drill; a sample transfer arm; the Signs of Life Detector (SOLID) created by Spain's Centro de Astrobiologia (CAB); and a prototype version of the Wet Chemistry Laboratory (WCL), which flew on the Phoenix Mars mission in 2007.

Engineers and scientists were successful in accomplishing their primary technology goal of this season-to use the ARADS drill and sample transfer robot arm at Yungay to acquire and feed sample material to the SOLID and WCL instruments under challenging environmental conditions. The in situ analyses of the drilled samples help set a yardstick for interpreting future results from these two instruments, and will be compared to results obtained from the same samples in some of the best laboratories.

Additionally, researchers from Johns Hopkins University and NASA Ames collected samples for laboratory investigations of the extreme microorganisms living inside salt habitats in the Atacama. These salt habitats could be the last refuge for life in this extremely dry region that is otherwise devoid of plants, animals, and most types of microorganisms.

"We are excited to learn as much as we can about these distinctive, resilient microorganisms, and hope that our studies will improve life-detection technology and strategies for Mars," said Mary Beth Wilhelm, a NASA Ames researcher and member of the ARADS science team.

Over the next four years, the ARADS project will return to the Atacama to demonstrate the feasibility of integrated roving, drilling and life-detection, with the goal of demonstrating the technical feasibility and scientific value of a mission that searches for evidence of life on Mars.


Related Links
Atacama Rover Astrobiology Drilling Studies
Life Beyond Earth
Lands Beyond Beyond - extra solar planets - news and science

Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Previous Report
Slime can see
London, UK (SPX) Feb 11, 2016
After more than 300 years of looking, scientists have figured out how bacteria "see" their world. And they do it in a remarkably similar way to us. A team of British and German researchers reveal in the journal eLife how bacterial cells act as the equivalent of a microscopic eyeball or the world's oldest and smallest camera eye. "The idea that bacteria can see their world in basicall ... read more

New Lunar Exhibit Features NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Imagery

Lunar love: When science meets artistry

NASA releases strange 'music' heard by 1969 astronauts

NASA chooses ASU to design and operate special satellite

Opportunity Mars Rover Goes Six-Wheeling up a Ridge

Jarosite in the Noctis Labyrinthus Region of Mars

Trace Gas Orbiter and Schiaparelli are joined

Footprints of a martian flood

Tools and Talent at Michoud to Complete SLS Core Stage Welding in 2016

Orion Test Hardware in Position for Solar Array Test

Orion Simulations Help Engineers Evaluate Mission Operations for Crew

NASA Space Program Now Requires Russian Language

China to launch second space lab Tiangong-2 in Q3

Logistics Rule on Tiangong 2

China's moon lander Chang'e-3 enters 28th lunar day

Staying Alive on Tiangong 2

After nearly a year in space, Scott Kelly craves human contact

Scott Kelly returns to earth, but science for NASA's journey to Mars continues

Orbital ATK Completes OA-4 Cargo Delivery Mission to ISS for NASA

Send your computer code into space with astronaut Tim Peake

Arianespace Soyuz to launch 2 Galileo satellites in May

At last second, SpaceX delays satellite launch again

SpaceX postpones rocket launch again

Russian rocket engines ban could leave US space program in limbo

Newly discovered planet in the Hyades cluster could shed light on planetary evolution

Imaging Technique May Help Discover Earth-Like Planets Around Other Stars

Imaging technique may help discover Earth-like planets

Longest-Lasting Stellar Eclipse Discovered

Mystery of Dracula orchids' mimicry is unraveled with a 3-D printer

Shrinking 3-D technology for comfortable smart phone viewing

Modified laser cutter prints 3-D objects from powder

New NTU microchip shrinks radar cameras to fit into a palm

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2016 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement All images and articles appearing on Space Media Network have been edited or digitally altered in some way. Any requests to remove copyright material will be acted upon in a timely and appropriate manner. Any attempt to extort money from Space Media Network will be ignored and reported to Australian Law Enforcement Agencies as a potential case of financial fraud involving the use of a telephonic carriage device or postal service.