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Spectroscopic detection of microbial colonization in Antarctic sandstone

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 April 2021

Christopher P. McKay
NASA Ames Research Center, Space Science Division, Moffett Field, CA 94035, USA
Gregg A. Swayze
US Geological Survey, MS964 Box 25046 Denver Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225, USA
Roger N. Clark
Planetary Science Institute, 1700 East Fort Lowell, Suite 106, Tucson, AZ 85719, USA
Raymond F. Kokaly
US Geological Survey, MS964 Box 25046 Denver Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225, USA
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We report infrared reflectance and ultraviolet fluorescence spectra of the surfaces and cleaved side of Beacon Sandstone from Antarctica that harbours a cryptoendolithic microbial community - a photosynthesis-based consortium of algae, lichen and bacteria present a few millimetres below the surface. Chlorophyll absorptions were present in the reflectance spectra of the exposed interior but not on the top or bottom surfaces and their band depths changed < 4% between measurements taken 19 years apart, indicating the stability of the microorganisms when the sample is kept dry. The presence of subsurface organic layers was detected in reflectance at 3.41 μm on the sample's surface. Fluorescence spectra of the cleaved side showed the blue fluorescence peaks expected from chlorophyll but no 0.65–0.80 μm peaks seen in fluorescence measurements of green vegetation. A weak fluorescence signal was detectable at the surface of the sample, presumably due to some light leaking into the subsurface through pores or cracks in the goethite coating the sample's surface. Theoretically, this weak fluorescence signal could possibly be observed in rock surfaces broken by erosion or meteor impacts on Mars. Sandstone outcrops have been reported on Mars and detection of organic layers in sandstones there would be of interest.

Earth Sciences
Copyright © Antarctic Science Ltd 2021

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