Gazing Into Danakil Depression’s Mirror, and Seeing Mars Stare Back By Amy Yee

Summary of Article: At 100 meters below sea level, the Danakil Depression is at one of the world's lowest altitudes. It is also one of the hottest places on Earth, with yearly temperatures averaging 34.4/93.9 degrees celsius/fahrenheit and only about 100 millimeters of rain each year. Though it may look extraterrestrial, the mars-like landscape belongs to a remote area in the northeast region of Ethiopia, named Afar, near Eritrea. Most of the meager scientific research on the Depression is based on the geology, not the biology. But scientists are now beginning to look at it as a potential viewing hole of what life on another planet could be like.

This month, a team of astrobiologists from Europlanet returned to study the depression’s geology, mineralogy and especially its biology, as an analogue to Mars. Researchers are isolating and identifying the hardy bacteria that thrive in this hostile environment of heat, acidity and salinity. New knowledge from Danakil could be applied to future Mars missions. Studying Danakil’s microbes is a way to train scientists to identify different forms of life for astrobiological exploration. While Mars today has subfreezing temperatures, its origins are volcanic and might be similar to the early history of Earth. There is also a broader goal of exploring ways to identify signs of life in extreme environments.

Analysis of Article: This study is rather significant because it could lead to finding life on other planets without actually traveling to them. Since it is too costly and risky for humans to travel to another planet (other than the moon) anytime soon, this area could solve one of the major mysteries of science: extraterrestrial life. Being able to identify the tiny microorganisms within this ecosystem can help scientists determine what is or what is not life on Mars, through a telescope. If there is life on Mars, it could lead to a future settlement on the planet. This study can potentially bring us the answer on whether or not there is life off of Earth and solve the space problem, for the time being!

My Big "Takeaway": Whether or not there is life on other planets has been one of the most heated debates ever. While they may scare some people, other believe they are real. The universe is too big for another planet like Earth not to exist, supporters say. I really think that this could provide the answer and settle the age old debate. Either way, the theory is really interesting and unlocking the answer could mean saving the human race from its own demise.

Check out this awesome BBC video on the Danakil Depression!

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