Since the Viking mission to Mars 30 years ago, no mission to Mars has focused exclusively on searching for evidence of organic material or biological activity, Storrie-Lombardi said. Now the ongoing Phoenix mission and the planned Mars Science Laboratory and ExoMars missions are positioned to reverse that trend.
"The addition of an ultraviolet triage system to search for hints of organic material fits well into the extensive suite of organic detection instruments planned for the MSL and ExoMars expedition," he said.
Oregon State's Fisk, whose research has focused in part on the study of microbes that grow in inhospitable locations, said the best chance of finding organic material on Mars would be wherever there is, or was, water locations where rocks have experienced weathering.
"These are energy-rich environments for microbial life," said Fisk, a professor in OSU's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences.
Fisk and his colleagues have spent much of the past dozen years studying microbes that can break down igneous rock and live in the obsidian-like volcanic glass. They first identified the bacteria through their signature tunnels then were able to extract DNA from the rock samples which have been found in such diverse environments on Earth as below the ocean floor, in deserts and on dry mountaintops.
Fisk and Storrie-Lombardi along with other scientists at OSU and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory previously collaborated on a study that found bacteria 4,000 feet below the ocean surface in Hawaii that they reached by drilling through the solid volcanic rock base of Mauna Kea.
|Contact: Marty Fisk|
Oregon State University