Gazing Into Danakil Depression’s Mirror, and Seeing Mars Stare Back By AMY YEE

Article Summary: At about 100 meters below sea level, only 100 millimeters of rain per year, and average daily temperatures of 34.4 degrees Celsius (93.9 degrees Fahrenheit), the volcanic region of the Danakil Depression in a remote northeast region of Ethiopia is known as a "geological wonder." Despite the area's "political volatility" and its close proximity to Eritrea, a country that has a violent relationship with Ethiopia, it is currently being studied by scientists as a way of understanding the possibilities of life on other planets and moons. A consortium of research institutions and companies doing planetary research, called Europlanet, sent a team of astrobiologists to study the geology, mineralogy, and biology as an analogue to Mars. Last spring, Centro de Astrobiología's Felipe Gómez, who is part of the science team of Curiosity, "the NASA exploration rover that landed on Mars over four years ago," led their first expedition to study the depression's microbes that live in extreme conditions, called extremophiles. The bacteria that thrive in this hostile environment of heat, acidity, and salinity are being identified and isolated by researchers at the University of Bologna and the International Research School of Planetary Sciences. The goal is "'to try to know the limits of life and the possibility of such forms of life in other planets like Mars.'" Scientists can use these Danakil's microbes "'to train ourselves to identify different forms of life for astrobiological exploration.'" Mars may have subfreezing temperatures today, but it was originally volcanic, possibly similar to the early history of Earth, so the trick to figuring out Mars may not require leaving our planet.

Why is this so important?

For decades, scientists and everyday citizens have marveled at the idea of finding and eventually cultivating life on another planet, Mars in particular. So any time there is a breakthrough that takes us a step closer to making that vision a reality, it's a pretty big deal. We've sent rovers that have landed on Mars in the past, and they have been very effective at obtaining critical information pertaining to the planet. However, these expeditions take far too long and cost too much money to do all the time, which is why finding a spot on Earth with Mars-like conditions is mouthwatering. It seems as though now we can move at a much faster pace toward the light at the end of the tunnel, and the ultimate goal we have in mind appears much more feasible.

A map of the Danakil Depression in relation to Ethiopia

Why did I choose this article to write about? I have always been extremely fascinated with the possibility of life on Mars and other planets. I see so much potential in the human race to eventually encompass the entire solar system, but anywhere in between is still exciting. When I stumbled across this reading, I was surprised I hadn't heard about it yet. I thought this had to be a popular talking point for sure, but nobody had bothered to bring it up in any facets of my life.

I truly hope to see that our scientists take this discovery very seriously and do everything in their power to not slow down until we have a lead on something. I want to know what, if anything at all, they can determine will be a possible life form we can see on Mars and how it differs from what we have here on Earth. Life on Mars is one of the main things I would like to witness in my lifetime and I sincerely wish that this doesn't become a desire in the next century.

Created By
Mark Adamo

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