Yellowstone will tell you how to find life on Mars

Student geologist from the University of Cincinnati is helping NASA determine whether on other planets to support life. Now Andrew Gungadin writes and doctoral works with Professor of Geology Andrew Tea over the handle for ancient bacterial life on Mars. This study could help scientists find the answer to one of the oldest and most profound mysteries of our galaxy. “We are trying to answer the question: how rare life in the Universe,” says Gangadeen.

Tea is in the Advisory Board of NASA, which determines exactly where on Mars to send the next Mars Rover with remote control. Among other goals, this Rover will look for signs once existed on the red planet life. The Advisory Board narrowed the list of suitable places to land up to three and recommend finalists by the end of this year.

Gangadin studying microbial life in the silicon hot springs to determine some useful indicators of life on Mars. Over the past few years, he has worked in the geyser basins of Yellowstone reserve, trying to determine which elements are associated with bacteria that live in these geothermal pools.

“We want to remain objective. Some believe that Mars has to have life,” says Gangadeen. “Others believe that life on Mars is definitely not. And each side has a good chance to be right. Both have valid arguments. So if we go to Mars and not find anything, the failure of the mission will not.”

Gangadin presented their work on April 25 at the Second international conference dedicated to the return of samples from Mars in Berlin, Germany.

Today, we know that life on Mars could not exist. At least not on a dry surface of the planet. Solar radiation split most of the water on the surface of the elementary particles about 3 billion years ago when the Red planet lost much of its protective magnetic field.

Scientists, however, discuss whether life can exist somewhere deep beneath the earth, and among water pockets trapped near geothermal areas like the geysers of Yellowstone.

To find evidence of life on Mars is strikingly difficult. If Mars once had life, perhaps she was destroyed along with the entire atmosphere, carried away by the solar wind, says Tea. Therefore, NASA scientists must be prepared to search for the fossil remains of bacterial life that could exist in those days. Gangadin says the good news is that similar fossils of early bacterial life that existed 3.5 billion years ago have been found on Earth. So, you will probably find on Mars.

“We can look at life preserved in these silicate deposits today. We have evidence that this occurs over geological time,” he says. “What we need is to catch the fossilization process. What happens to the microbes themselves? What happens to the trace elements that accompany them in life?”.

To shed light on ancient life on Mars, geologists looking for hot springs like those in the first national Park of America. Gangitano and his colleagues need permission to collect samples on the outskirts of the Park. But the geyser basins study itself can be difficult and dangerous. In 2017 the Yellowstone tourist died after falling into one of the boiling pools.

“The source will easily remove the flesh from your bones,” says Gangadeen. “At the bottom of the hot spring full of skulls of Buffalo and other animals who are not lucky enough to come too close.”

The team Gangadin experienced scientist Jeff Havig working at the University of Minnesota. He carefully makes a way through the Caldera. Sometimes they see a hole, pierced the Buffalo with his hoof, rises the soaring gas.

Geologists work leads them to “shaking bogs”, the thin layer of peat and grass that covers deep mud. It is possible to inadvertently fall in the mud knee-deep.

“Fortunately, it’s not too warm. But I was far from the rest. The soil can change quickly. We have to be extremely careful.”

Boiling acid and lava — like mud-not the only dangers of explorers of the geyser basins. They must also be careful not to go too long hovering near the holes, because the mixture of gases like carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and methane can suffocate human.

But as it resembles a fantastic study of the unknown planet.

However, rising from ground gas accumulating even in clean air.

“These hot springs emit a lot of gases, which you don’t want to breathe. They bind with the hemoglobin which carries oxygen through your body. Inhale more and feel tired,” says Gangadeen. “So we’re trying to plan for every day of field work, trying not to work more than three days in a row. Four days and you will feel like a zombie. Hard to think, hard to move”.

Studying biology at the University, Gangadin working with biology Professor Dennis Grogan, which helps to explore microbial life — particularly the extremophiles, which exist even in this inhospitable environment, such as acidic or alkaline hot springs of Yellowstone. As a geologist explores Gangadin fossils that are left after this single-celled life.

“Hot springs leave silicate deposits, which perfectly preserve life,” says Gangadeen. “Once on the planet’s surface, they do not kristallizuetsya and does not change. Such samples should be sufficiently well retained, when we find them”.

In the geological laboratory of Professor Tea Gangadin peering through a microscope in the slides that he had prepared from the silicon sections of the Yellowstone that he obtained in a conical geyser. Bacterial filaments in samples taken at the top of the geyser, saturated color. But older samples, some of which are thousands of years old, colorless, even if they maintain their form. Therefore, to obtain more information about this simplest form of life, Gangadin analyses of bacterial samples using mass-spectrometer of secondary ions. The analysis of the color elements in different colors: deep yellow, red and green is chromium or gallium, which are commonly associated with bacterial life.

If Gangadin will find a correlation between the concentrations and spatial distributions of specific elements and bacteria, it can serve as biosignatures, which scientists can use to identify past life on Mars.

“The reason we chose gallium, that he’s not usually associated with life. But studying these fossilized bacteria sample, we found something curious. Apparently, the bacteria keep certain elements selectively, contrary to what you expect to find in the breed”.

Gangadin working with scientists from Australia where the oldest fossil bacteria Dating back 3.5 billion years.

“If I want to create biosignature, I have to be sure that it will continue over time,” says Gangadeen. “It is in these relatively young samples. But whether it will be the ancient too? It remains to be seen”.

Gangadin also plans to build an artificial hot spring in a laboratory aquarium using the same elements found in the geysers. If you supersaturate the water with silica, it will settle, as in nature. You can then add trace amounts of a chemical associated with life, and to explore what is happening in a miniature world in which there is no life.

“To prove that we found biosignature, we need to prove that this biosignature will not occur without life,” he says. “We were surprised to see gallium. It is associated with silica near bacteria, but is not inside bacteria.”

NASA Advisory Committee will meet in October to decide what place on Mars is preferable to send the Rover. The Rover yet is scheduled to launch in July-August 2020 and to Mars will arrive seven months later.

The Rover will collect samples in sealed containers to late to send back. Therefore, it may be that for many years before geologists like Teas and Gangadin will know how to search for life on Mars. Assistance in the design of question that you’ll never know the answer, has always been one of the most decisive actions in science.

“I like to make missions NASA’s long-term planning and thinking. The people working on these projects now may never see results. But they are willing to work, because the question is very interesting.”

Mission to Mars 2020 will not be disastrous if scientists do not find signs of life. On the contrary.

“If we find it, we can say that life is not such a rarity on the planet. But if we don’t find life in places that will be ideal for her, then life will be quite a rare event.”

If NASA do find signs of life on Mars, it would mean that the origin of life from a primordial soup is not that unusual. And the first question would be: how Martian life is different from earth? What common ancestor?

“Maybe we’re all Martians,” says Tea.

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