Journalist Report – August 13th

 In Journalist Report

Anastasiya Stepanova

What we are doing here?

Many of you might think: “Why they have to make all the way to the Arctic, where it is risky, expensive and unreliable? Why not do it the same way as Mars-500, where the station located in the middle of the city, but fully isolated and had a small simulation of Martian surface for a short EVA. Mars 160 mission chose a different path among the mars analogue missions. In our simulation the field science comes first, second is isolation and third operations.

Devon Island and Utah desert have many similarities with Martian geology. Devon has an impact crater, permafrost environment, gypsum deposits and desert climate. In Utah: gypsum deposits, desert climate, clay minerals and sand dunes. The main goal of our mission is same as it would be on real Mars mission – finding the traces of life or life itself. The crew biologist Anushree Srivastava has all the weight on her shoulders. She is responsible for five microbiological research projects but only two of them can correspond with real Mars mission. The hypoliths are photosynthetic organisms that live underneath translucent rocks in climatically extreme places. The rocks are generally translucent (quartz) which allow hypoliths to receive light, moisture from the substrate and the soil underside. During our fieldwork in Utah we tested that it is correct, but at Devon Island the hypoliths follow different path. They live under the limestone. Rock protects hypoliths from harsh ultraviolet radiation, desiccation and extreme temperatures. There is a big possibility to find microorganisms living underneath the Martian rocks.

Another important research is finding traces of microbial life trapped in ancient evaporites such as gypsum (hydrated calcium sulphate). Those microorganisms are halophiles. Halophiles (in Greek word for “salt-loving”) are organisms that thrive in high salt concentrations. They can be found anywhere with a concentration of salt five times greater than the salt concentration of the ocean. As Anushree says: “On Earth photosynthetic life has been found to be encapsulated inside hydrothermal sulfate rocks. On the other hand, ancient gypsum may also host the sings of primitive life that was living in the liquid water and got buried during crystallization. If not viable, we may find the trace of past life that left while degradation. So we are interested in investigating gypsum from that perspective. Since the presence of gypsum has been confirmed on the surface of Mars, there is a possibility to detect similar signs of life in those deposits”. Three other biology projects have less chances of be repeated on Mars, but have operational advantage in analog environments. Mapping and surveying of Lichen biodiversity; documenting the Arctic flora and studying associated microbiome; studying different communities of Algae in the Arctic environment. It is fascinating to participate in these projects via assisting Anushree during EVAs. To discover micro life in such a hostile world. To watch how it fights for the place under the sun. To look at our planet from a different angle. This is why the science comes first!

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