If life can exist in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, can it also be present on Mars?

  • If life can exist in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, can it also be present on Mars?

    Scientists are studying extremophiles to get some clues. Extremophiles are organisms that can survive in harsh conditions, such as ice or boiling water.

    One study site is the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica. The Dry Valleys are arid, frigid, and mostly ice-free, since the region is protected from precipitation by the Transantarctic Mountains. This environment is as similar to a Martian environment as you can get without leaving Earth.

    In the 1970s, NASA’s Viking program sent space probes to Mars to conduct exobiology experiments (studies designed to detect life in space or on another planet). These test were inconclusive for life, but were conducted prior to the discovery of extremophiles. So, expectations of where life could exist on Mars were more limited. Scientists hope that learning more about the hardy organisms in the Dry Valleys could inform future Mars missions.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    Antarctica Noun

    Earth's fifth-largest continental landmass.

    Encyclopedic Entry: Antarctica
    arid Adjective


    boil Verb

    to change from a liquid to a gaseous state.

    conduct Verb

    to transmit, transport, or carry.

    discovery Noun

    something seen, documented, or noticed for the first time.

    Earth Noun

    our planet, the third from the Sun. The Earth is the only place in the known universe that supports life.

    Encyclopedic Entry: Earth
    environment Noun

    conditions that surround and influence an organism or community.

    exobiology Noun

    branch of biology concerned with the search for life beyond Earth and the effects of extraterrestrial environments on living organisms.

    experiment Verb

    to try or test an idea.

    extremophile Noun

    microbe that is adapted to survive in very harsh environments, such as freezing or boiling water.

    freezing Adjective

    at or below 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit).

    frigid Adjective

    very cold.

    harsh Adjective


    investigate Verb

    to study or examine in order to learn a series of facts.

    Mars Noun

    fourth planet from the sun, between Earth and Jupiter.

    NASA Noun

    (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) the U.S. space agency, whose mission statement is "To reach for new heights and reveal the unknown so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind."

    organism Noun

    living or once-living thing.

    planet Noun

    large, spherical celestial body that regularly rotates around a star.

    Encyclopedic Entry: planet
    research Noun

    scientific observations and investigation into a subject, usually following the scientific method: observation, hypothesis, prediction, experimentation, analysis, and conclusion.

    scientist Noun

    person who studies a specific type of knowledge using the scientific method.

    space probe Noun

    set of scientific instruments and tools launched from Earth to study the atmosphere and composition of space and other planets, moons, or celestial bodies.

    survive Verb

    to live.