U.S. Water News Online
OSLO, Norway -- Living microbes found in what could be 1
million-year-old ice on a remote Arctic island support the theory
that the frozen planet Mars could also sustain life, researchers
An international team drilled ice core samples on the remote
Svalbard islands at the extinct Sverrefjell volcano. They said that
is the only place on Earth with the same minerals -- called magnetite
crystals -- as those found on a meteorite from Mars that was
discovered in the Antarctic in 1996.
"We have discovered a microbiological oasis in natural tubes of
blue ice on Svalbard. This is an extremely tough environment in which
we would not have expected to find life," said team leader Hans E.F.
Amundsen, of the University of Oslo.
Space probes sent to Mars by NASA from the United States and by
the European Space Administration have showed evidence of water in
the form of ice on the Red Planet.
Water is a key building block for living organisms, although many
scientists believe the planet is now too cold to sustain life, a
theory the Norwegian-led team's findings could challenge.
Mars is cold and dry with large caps of frozen water at its poles.
However, it shares features with the Arctic Svalbard archipelago,
such as permafrost, volcanoes and possibly hot springs pushing water
through the frozen surface, the team said.
Yervant Terzian, an astronomy professor at Cornell University in
Ithaca, New York, said the findings were interesting, but added it
was not enough to conclude there is life on Mars
"You need to have much more evidence of many different sorts,"
said Terzian, who was not involved with the project.
The team, called the Arctic Mars Analog Svalbard Expedition, began
probing the islands in 2003, taking core samples at sites that
include the ice-filled volcanic tubes of the Sverrefjell, which
erupted through thick ice about 1 million years ago.
"Such ice-filled volcanic tubes are probably also found on Mars,
and could be a refuge for life there," said the team's scientific
leader, Andrew Steele, of the Carnegie Institution in Washington,
The Svalbard Islands are about 300 miles north of the Norwegian
mainland, and are largely covered with glaciers and permafrost.
The team took core samples with specially designed sterile drills,
to avoid contamination by surface bacteria, a statement said. The
living microbes were detected in the ice by special biological
sensors, developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
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