SCIENTISTS from Spain’s Centro de Astrobiología have discovered the key to finding life on Mars may be in the Earth’s driest desert.

Shallow layers of soil in Chile’s arid Atacama Desert contains diverse microbes, which suggest there may be microorganisms in the similar terrain on Mars.

“The clays are inhabited by microorganisms,” said scientist Alberto G. Fairén. “Our discovery suggests that something similar may have occurred billions of years ago — or it still may be occurring — on Mars.”

If microbes existed on Mars in the past, their biomarkers likely would be preserved there, Fairén said. “If microbes still exist today,” he said, “the latest possible Martian life still may be resting there.”

Scientists say this new discovery will help astronauts guide their research when looking for life on Mars in the near future.

NASA’s rover Perseverance will land on Mars in February 2021, while Europe’s Rosalind Franklin rover will arrive in 2023. 

Atacama’s soil is home to at least 30 salt-loving microbial species of single-cell organisms.

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