According to recent research findings, the robots that are now investigating Mars may not be sensitive enough to identify any signs of life that could exist on the red planet.
Despite the fact that previous missions to Mars confirmed that the planet has liquid water on its surface, suggesting the potential for life, none of the probes that have been sent to the planet have detected any clear native organic compounds.
Even the most advanced instruments on NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance rovers have only found traces of simple organic molecules. These molecules could have been produced by geological processes rather than indicating the presence of life, so the discovery of these molecules is not conclusive evidence that life exists on Mars.
The researchers wrote: “Our analyses by testbed instruments that are on, or will be sent to, Mars, show that although the mineralogy of Red Stone matches that detected by ground-based instruments on the red planet, similarly low levels of organics will be hard, if not impossible, to detect in martian rocks, depending on the instrument and technique used.”
Testing & Experiments on Laboratory Equipment
Dr. Armando Azua-Bustos of the Astrobiology Centre in Spain led an international research team that recently conducted experiments to test instruments currently or soon to be used on Mars. The testing took place in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile at a site called Red Stone.
The researchers examined sedimentary fossils from a river delta that formed around 100 to 160 million years ago in conditions similar to those found on Mars’ Jezero Crater. The team discovered biosignatures, molecules that could be evidence of past or present life, in the samples.
Additionally, the researchers encountered numerous microorganisms in the Red Stone samples that are challenging to identify and have been labeled as the “dark microbiome.”
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Armando Azua-Bustos advised that future trips to Mars should try to return samples to Earth, where the most cutting-edge technology can evaluate them.
He said, “We found that in Red Stone there is a variety of microorganisms that are very difficult to classify, so we propose the term dark microbiome which is similar to the dark matter that is estimated to make up an important part of the universe – we know that it is there but it still resists being identified.”
NASA & ESA’s Take On the Matter
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA) want to bring the material that was gathered by Perseverance back to Earth as early as the year 2033.
In addition, future research can investigate the dark microbiome at Red Stone, which may contain microbes that are either so dissimilar to any known microorganisms that they defy current categories, or they may be relics of life that used to exist in the region when it had water millions of years ago and “have no current relatives now that you can compare them with.”