Hiding places for bacteria in Rio Tinto could be like those on Mars

Submitted by keith cowing on Fri, 01/11/2013 – 09:03.

Researchers at the Centre of Astrobiology have identified microorganisms that live inside salt deposits in the acidic and ferrous environment of the Tinto River in Huelva, Spain. The extreme conditions of these microniches appear to be similar to those of the salt deposits on Mars and Jupiter’s moon, Europa. This possibility should be borne in mind on missions operating in these places, such as Curiosity.

The high doses of radiation, lack of moisture and extreme temperature and pressure on the surface of Mars make the development of life difficult. Within this hostile environment, scientists are searching for “friendlier” niches that could encourage life. One of the candidates is the salt deposits.

A team from the Centre of Astrobiology (CAB, INTA-CSIC) has analysed this kind of environment on Earth: the salt deposits associated to a mineral with sulphur and iron named natrojarosite. It can be found in the Rio Tinto basin in Huelva and is very similar to one detected on Mars: jarosite. Its presence reveals the past or present existence of water.

“The salt deposits are good ‘hosts’ for biological remains and even life itself in extreme circumstances,” as outlined to SINC by Felipe Gomez, coauthor of the study published in the ‘Planetary and Space Science’.

Read more: Hiding places for bacteria in Rio Tinto could be like those on Mars | OnOrbit.

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