Press Trust of IndiaFebruary 23, 2021. 15:55:29 IST
Some microbes found on Earth may temporarily survive on the surface of Mars, according to a study that could be vital to the success of future missions to the Red Planet. Researchers from NASA and the German Space Center tested the resilience of microorganisms to Martian conditions by launching them into the stratosphere, the second major layer of the Earth’s atmosphere that closely represents key conditions on Mars. Study, published in the journal Boundaries in microbiology, paves the way for understanding not only the threat of microbes to space missions, but also the possibilities for resource independence from Earth.
“We have successfully tested a new way of exposing bacteria and fungi to Mars-like conditions, using a science balloon to transfer our experimental equipment to Earth’s stratosphere,” said Marta Filipa Cortesao, co-author of the study from the German Space Center. “Some microbes, especially slow-growing black mold fungi, have managed to survive the journey, even when exposed to very high UV radiation,” Cortesa said.
In the search for extraterrestrial life, scientists must be sure that everything they discover does not just travel from Earth.
“With long-term manned missions to Mars, we need to know how human-related microorganisms would survive on the Red Planet, as some may pose a health risk to astronauts,” said first co-author Katharina Siems, also based at the German Aerospace Center.
“In addition, some microbes could be invaluable for space exploration. They could help us produce supplies of food and materials independent of Earth, which will be crucial when we are away from home,” Siems said.
Many key environmental characteristics on the surface of Mars cannot be found or easily replicated on the Earth’s surface, however in the middle stratosphere the conditions are extremely similar.
“We launched microbes into the stratosphere within MARSBOx (Microbes in the Atmosphere for the Radiation, Survival, and Biological Outcomes Experiment), which was maintained under Mars pressure and filled with an artificial Martian atmosphere during the mission,” Cortesao explained. “The box carried two layers of samples, and the lower layer was protected from radiation,” she said.
This allowed the researchers to separate the effects of radiation from other tested conditions: drying, atmosphere and temperature fluctuations during the summer.
The top layer samples were exposed to more than a thousand times more ultraviolet (UV) radiation than the levels that can cause burns on our skin, they said.
“Although not all microbes survived the voyage, one previously discovered on the International Space Station, a black mold Aspergillus niger, could come to life after returning home, ”Siems explained.
“Microorganisms are closely related to us; our body, our food, our environment, so it’s impossible to exclude them from space travel,” she said.
The story is rarely edited to correct spelling mistakes and style.