There’s been a few Martian microbial bits and pieces flying around today, so here’s a quick summary of those that I saw (articles, not very little green blobs).
Over at Discovery News, Ian O’Neill talks about the hazards posed by terrestrial microbes hitching a lift to Mars on one of our robots. The trouble is, research shows there are bugs capable of surviving the sterilisation techniques employed on space vehicles. Those that can live through that are also quite capable of setting up home on the Red Planet after a long, cold journey from the Earth.
A paleobiologist, Bill Schopf, has discovered that fossils of microbes may be found preserved in gypsum, a type of mineral previously assumed to contain no such evidence of past life. Why the Martian angle? He looked after being contacted by astrobiologists who noted how much gypsum there was on Mars and wondered whether or not it could be used in this way.
Meanwhile, a series of astrobiologists are planning a recipe of terrestrial bacteria that they’ve decided they do want over there. Bacteria including cyanobacteria, discovered in Biopan VI, an ESA mission to expose a series of bugs to space and see what lives and what didn’t. Cyanobacteria not only lived, they were actually discovered for the first time once the other bacteria had been stripped away from them by the environment in space. Cyanobacteria photosynthesis, meaning they are solar powered like much of the space effort, so ideal as rugged pioneers in the space age. ESA has incorporated them into a recycling system called MELiSSA that produces oxygen, clean water and recycles waste. Finally, a series of bugs from Iceland and lichen are being lined up as possible catalysts for volcanic rock from Mars being turned into soil. It is known that plants can grow in pulverised Martian rock, but something a bit more suitable would be needed to promote the sort of levels of production a colony requires. Further details on these two stories are both here.
With microbes we don’t want apparently going to Mars, microbes we do want to send to Mars and possible common searching grounds for signs of old microbes between here and Mars above, it is no wonder on a NASA flickr account, there is evidence that Mars is keeping careful watch…
…and finally, for those wanting a little more astrobiology news, NASA has this site to keep you going for a while.