Apart from the wishful thinking of finding or making contact with some complex and intelligent alien life forms in other corners of the seemingly limitless cosmos، as depicted in sci-fi movies، the scientific endeavor، however، is largely one in which astrobiologists attempt to detect simple organisms in other parts of the Solar System، notably on Mars، and an indirect way to assess such possibility is to study those microorganisms that thrive in the harshest conditions on the Earth.
A team of international scientists، led by Washington State University planetary scientist Dirk Schulze-Makuch، meticulously studied South America’s Atacama Desert، the driest nonpolar desert in the world، where decades pass without any rain، and found that even this hyper-arid desert can provide a habitable environment for microbes.
The research، whose results were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday، showed that specialized bacteria are capable of living in the dehydrated soil of this strip of land on the Pacific coast، going dormant for decades without receiving a single drop of water and then reactivating and reproducing when it rains.
“It has always fascinated me to go to the places where people don’t think anything could possibly survive and discover that life has somehow found a way to make it work،” Schulze-Makuch said. “Our research tell us that if life can persist in Earth’s driest environment there is a good chance it could be hanging in there on Mars in a similar fashion.”
Those organisms، which thrive in physically or geochemically extreme conditions that are detrimental to a large part of life on the Earth، are technically called extremophiles. They are suitable tools by which astrobiologists try to assess the possibility of the presence of life، at least in its simple form، on Mars، whose environment، more or less، is similar to the niches occupied by these diehard microbes.