Icy volcanoes offer clues for life on Mars

8 March 2013, by Alex Peel

Scientists investigating icy volcanoes on Earth have uncovered clues that could help us to find signs of life on Mars.

Heat, water and minerals combine on ice-covered volcanoes to sustain tiny, basic forms of life. Scientists hope that, by creating detailed descriptions of the rocks and chemistry of these icy volcanos on Earth, they will be able to detect similar environments on the Red Planet.

‘These environments are fascinating because they exist in such a primitive setting,’ says Dr Claire Cousins of University College London, the study’s lead author.

‘They are not affected by groundwater or seawater and this makes them very relevant to understanding the possibility of life on Mars; such simple volcanic environments may have existed there in the past.’

‘But to find them on Mars, we need to understand how they look on Earth.’

Cousins and her team explored the Askja and Kverkfjoll volcanos in central Iceland, finding an incredibly diverse range of minerals over just a few square kilometres.

If they could find the same mineral patterns on the surface of Mars, it could point to life-supporting environments that existed there in the past.

Finding traces of those environments on Mars will be no easy task, but Cousins believes that new technology could hold the key to unlocking the secrets of Martian history.

Read more: Icy volcanoes offer clues for life on Mars — Planet Earth Online.

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