By investigating "unlifelike" places on Earth where conditions would kill most creatures, scientists can determine the kind of energy and nutrients that may be available to microbial life found under similar conditions beneath the surface of Mars. Extreme environments on Earth that serve as Mars analogs or models include places that reach the outer limits of hot or cold, are arid or have ultra-high or -low pH.
"One of the biggest questions we face as scientists is: are we alone? Most people think of finding life on other planets as locating intelligent life forms elsewhere in our galaxy. But astrobiologists are approaching this question by looking for simple, microbial life forms in the backyard of our own Solar System," said Jack Farmer, Ph.D., an astrobiologist at Arizona State University. "Most intensely, we have been exploring Mars for evidence of past environments that might harbor fossil signatures preserved in ancient rocks, or living organisms that might be hiding in safe places beneath the surface where water could be abundant. The exploration for a Martian fossil record is being approached in the same way paleontologists explored for the earliest fossils of life on our own planet. The biggest challenge has been adapting these methods for robotic explorers to use."
"Earth is the laboratory for future discoveries on Mars. Without examining Earth's extreme environments, we wouldn't understand how processes worked to shape the landscape, chemistry and life at the limits. Without that understanding, we couldn't draw conclusions about how life can develop on other planets, " said Jim Garvin, Ph
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JASON Foundation for Education