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Multidisciplinary integrated field campaign to an acidic Martian Earth analogue with astrobiological interest: Rio Tinto

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 February 2011

F. Gómez*
Affiliation:
Centro de Astrobiologia (INTA-CSIC), Carretera de Ajalvir km 4, Torrejón de Ardoz, 28850 Madrid, Spain
N. Walter
Affiliation:
Space Sciences Unit, European Science Foundation, B.P. 90015-1, Quai Lezay-Marnésia, F-67080 Strasbourg Cedex, France
R. Amils
Affiliation:
Centro de Astrobiologia (INTA-CSIC), Carretera de Ajalvir km 4, Torrejón de Ardoz, 28850 Madrid, Spain Centro de Biología Molecular ‘Severo Ochoa’, Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, Campus de Cantoblanco, Madrid 28049, Spain
F. Rull
Affiliation:
UVA-CSIC associated unit to Centro de Astrobiología Edificio INDITI, Parcela 203 Parque Tecnológico de Boecillo 47150, Boecillo, Valladolid, Spain
A.K. Klingelhöfer
Affiliation:
Institut für Anorganische und Analytische Chemie, Johannes-Gutenberg-Universität, Staudinger Weg 9, 55128 Mainz, Germany
J. Kviderova
Affiliation:
Institute of Botany AS CR, Dukelská 135, 37982 Třeboň, Czech Republic
P. Sarrazin
Affiliation:
inXitu Inc., 2551 Casey Ave Ste A, Mountain View, CA 94043, USA
B. Foing
Affiliation:
ILEWGc/o BH Foing, ESTECPO Box 299, 2200 AG Noordwijk, The Netherlands
A. Behar
Affiliation:
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA 91109, USA
I. Fleischer
Affiliation:
Institut für Anorganische und Analytische Chemie, Johannes-Gutenberg-Universität, Staudinger Weg 9, 55128 Mainz, Germany
V. Parro
Affiliation:
Centro de Astrobiologia (INTA-CSIC), Carretera de Ajalvir km 4, Torrejón de Ardoz, 28850 Madrid, Spain
M. Garcia-Villadangos
Affiliation:
Centro de Astrobiologia (INTA-CSIC), Carretera de Ajalvir km 4, Torrejón de Ardoz, 28850 Madrid, Spain
D. Blake
Affiliation:
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA 94035, USA
J.D. Martin Ramos
Affiliation:
Departamento de Mineralogia y Petrologia, Universidad de Granada, Granada, Spain
S. Direito
Affiliation:
VU Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
P. Mahapatra
Affiliation:
Delft University of Technology,Delft,The Netherlands
C. Stam
Affiliation:
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group, California Institute of Technology, M/S 89-102D 4800 Oak Grove Dr., Pasadena, CA 91109, USA
K. Venkateswaran
Affiliation:
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group, California Institute of Technology, M/S 89-102D 4800 Oak Grove Dr., Pasadena, CA 91109, USA
M. Voytek
Affiliation:
NASA HQ and National Center, Pennsylvania State University, Reston, VA 20192, USA

Abstract

Recently reported results from latest Mars Orbiters and Rovers missions are transforming our opinion about the red planet. That dry and inhospitable planet reported in the past is becoming a wetter planet with high probabilities of water existence in the past. Nowadays, some results seem to indicate the presence of water beneath the Mars surface. But also mineralogy studies by NASA Opportunity Rover report iron oxides and hydroxides precipitates on Endurance Crater. Sedimentary deposits have been identified at Meridiani Planum. These deposits must have generated in a dune aqueous acidic and oxidizing environment. Similarities appear when we study Rio Tinto, and acidic river under the control of iron.

The discovery of extremophiles on Earth widened the window of possibilities for life to develop in the Universe, and as a consequence on Mars and other planetary bodies with astrobiological interest. The compilation of data produced by the ongoing missions offers an interested view for life possibilities to exist: signs of an early wet Mars and rather recent volcanic activity as well as ground morphological characteristics that seem to be promoted by liquid water. The discovery of important accumulations of sulfates and the existence of iron minerals such as jarosite in rocks of sedimentary origin has allowed specific terrestrial models to come into focus. Río Tinto (Southwestern Spain, Iberian Pyritic Belt) is an extreme acidic environment, product of the chemolithotrophic activity of micro-organisms that thrive in the massive pyrite-rich deposits of the Iberian Pyritic Belt. Some particular protective environments should house the organic molecules and bacterial life forms in harsh environments such as Mars surface supporting microniches inside precipitated minerals or inside rocks. Terrestrial analogues could help us to afford the comprehension of habitability (on other planetary bodies).

We are reporting here the multidisciplinary study of some endolithic niches inside salt deposits used by phototrophs for taking advantage of sheltering particular light wavelengths. These acidic salts deposits located in Río Tinto shelter life forms that are difficult to visualize by eye. This interdisciplinary field analogue campaign was conducted in the framework of the CAREX FP7 EC programme.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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