Science – Studying ancient life in Australia to learn how to find it on Mars – Publimetro México

Madrid, 5 (European Press)

The Pilbara, located in the Western Australian Outback, is one of the few places in the world that has an ancient geological record of our ancient planet. As the international community continues to study Mars and prepare to return samples to Earth, these teams have explored what our own backyards can teach us about the search for life elsewhere.

“What we’re seeing here in Western Australia are known as stromatolites,” Mitch Schulte, Mars Perseverance Rover program scientist at NASA Headquarters, said in a statement. “They are fossils from layers of microorganisms that lived about 3.5 billion years ago and whose existence has been recorded and preserved in the rock record throughout this time.”

Because of geological processes that constantly reshape and recycle the Earth’s surface, it is extremely difficult to preserve stromatolites or other fossils on Earth for long periods of time, so only a fraction of past life remains geologically recorded.

In the Pilbara region, the rock record has been preserved intact for billions of years, resulting in geological outcrops of the same age that we see across much of the Martian surface. This makes the site a crucial testing ground for scientists and engineers to hone their skills in identifying signs of life in ancient environments.

The delegation, which included scientists from the Australian research agency CSIRO, spent a week-long expedition to the Pilbara looking at the difficulties of locating fossil evidence and how our expeditions used techniques, including detailed contextual measurements, to overcome such challenges. Discussions have centered on how difficult it is to find and confirm signs of past life in ancient rocks, even on a planet like Earth where life is known to have taken hold.

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The main topic of the field workshop was the importance of the geological context in selecting sampling sites and ultimately ensuring the integrity of the biological origin of the sample. Pilbara is the perfect classroom for teams to study stromatolites that have stood the test of time, scientific rigor, and an understanding of what they might be looking for on Mars. The group investigated how the environment in which these ancient signs of life were found might have been conducive or unfavorable to the formation of biology.

Myrtle Frost

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