Let’s begin with a hard truth: Mars is a long, long way away, and it’s still a few decades until we set up there, no matter what Elon Musk’s plans may be. Fortunately we can, sort of, visit Mars here on Earth — as long as we can get to northern Chile. In that part of the planet, the very Mars-like Atacama Desert resides. As one of the driest, dustiest places in the world, it provides a close analog to test what happens on Mars without ever leaving the comfort of our gravity and atmosphere. A team of international scientists, led by Armando Azua-Bustos, have taken to the Atacama to test how microscopic organisms, such as bacteria and fungi, may have been able to use dust to move across vast distances in the desert. Their research, published in the journal Scientific Reports on Thursday, describes the “very simple experiment” they devised to test how these microbes could survive the harsh conditions, like high levels of ultraviolet radiation and extreme aridity, found in the Atacama. Now playing: Watch this: Another Mars rover bites the dust, but NASA’s not finished… 6:31 That very simple experiment saw the scientists set up plates of “broth,” a cocktail of nutrients for microbes to grow in, across six specific sites from the coast into the desert. The first site was 63 kilometers (40 miles) long, while the second was 50 kilometers. The scientists looked at the dust that accumulated in empty plates and were able to… [Read full story]
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