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.

Noun

Earth's fifth-largest continental landmass.

arid
Adjective

dry.

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.

Noun

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

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

extreme.

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.

Noun

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

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.