We know that Mars was once a planet that held water and a favorable climate for life. Earth’s twin is now a barren place where the ground snaps underneath pressure from a space boot. The dryest place in the world, Chile’s Atacama Desert, has an extremely similar landscape to Mars’s scorched floor. Over the past few years, the Atacama received uncharacteristic amounts of rain. So, researchers decided to take a look at its effect on the area in order to surmise Mars’s reaction to water.
Atacama and Mars
The Atacama Desert is a vast, amazing span of jagged mounds of dirt and rock. But it wasn’t always this way. Just like Mars, it was once flooded with water. Although Mars has been through a much tougher environment in its lifetime, Atacama has seen its fair share of struggles.
In 2015 and 2017, the Atacama experienced huge rainstorms that drenched the ground. Most assumed that this increase in rainfall would quench the floor’s thirst and benefit the desert. This is not at all what happened.
The Atacama has 16 microbial species that stay alive in its soil, feeding off of nitrates and the extremely minimal water supplied. These tough little guys have adapted to unlivable conditions.
After the Atacama storms occurred, researchers saw zero plant or flower growth. But they wanted to know more. They measured the soil for microbial levels. The count had gone from 16 to 4. The water caused a tremendous extinction.
No Dasani on your Mars vacation
Visits to Mars may be possible in the near future. With the chance of this happening, scientists are questioning whether or not Mars also has existing microbes left from before its dry-out.
Is it possible that there’s still life to find in the dusty fields of Mars? And if so, will we need to be concerned about the consequences of drowning any potential for life? The answer from researchers and populations alike is, hopefully, a resounding yes.