Exciting News from the Search for Extraterrestrial Life!

Regular readers know I am fascinated by the search for extraterrestrial life.  I have blogged about the possibility of life on Mars or Enceladus (a moon of Saturn).

That possibility is now increased by two recent studies using Agilent equipment!

Scientists theorize that Mars once supported microbial life when the planet had liquid water – but all such organisms perished with the loss of that water.  However, international researchers have been studying the Atacama Desert in Chile.  Not only is the Atacama one of the driest places on Earth, it is comparable to current conditions on Mars.

The scientists discovered that when the Atacama receives once-in-a-decade rainfall, microorganisms that have lain dormant for thousands of years miraculously become active again.  Could similar forms of life be present beneath the surface of Mars, waiting for the right conditions to re-emerge?

“Our results highlight that even the hyperarid Atacama Desert can provide a habitable environment for microorganisms,” the researchers write.  “These results have implications for the prospect of life on other planets such as Mars, which has transitioned from an earlier wetter environment to today’s extreme hyperaridity.”

The scientists performed their organic analyses using an Agilent gas chromatograph, mass spectrometer and columns.

A separate study involves Enceladus, a Saturn moon that uniquely contains liquid water as well as life-supporting chemicals.  Austrian researchers not only recreated that environment in the lab, they successfully cultivated some tiny Earth microbes to thrive in that environment.

Methanothermococcus okinawensis is a microorganism that can live on methane (CH4) in the absence of oxygen.

“In this study, we show that the methanogenic strain M. okinawensis is able to propagate and/or to produce CH4 under putative Enceladus-like conditions,” the researchers write.  “We conclude that some of the CH4 detected in the plume of Enceladus might, in principle, be produced by methanogens.

“Based on our findings, it might be interesting to search for methanogenic biosignatures on icy moons in future space missions.”

The researchers determined volumetric concentrations of CH4 using an Agilent gas chromatograph.

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