The driest desert on earth — the Atacama Desert of Peru — is considered a great stand in for what the geology of Mars is like. It's no wonder then that scientists are excited to find what they term an "oasis" of micro-organisms living under the surface of the desert. Such a find could mean that similar microbes could theoretically exist under the surface of Mars.
Researchers used a device called a Signs of Life Detector (SOLID) containing a biochip that includes up to 450 anitbodies to identify biological material. After taking samples from a depth of five meters, they found the presence of archaea (single celled micro-organisms that have no cell nuclei) and bacteria.
The micro-organisms were not only photographed under an electron microscope, but also brought to life when given water. That's exciting considering the surface of the desert — rich in halite (rock salt) and other water absorbing compounds — is so similar to Mars. It stands to reason if samples were taken from the Martian subsoil, they could potentially reveal the same kind of life forms.
The other important aspect of this find is the SOLID device used to collect the sample and check it against its biochip. The research team responsible for the discovery of the microbe oasis on here on Earth had been developing the device with the goal of using it on potential Mars missions.
These trial results indicate the SOLID would do the job.
Trial of the SOLID and the Atacama Desert microbe find were part a joint research team from the Center of Astrobiology of INTA-CSIC in Spain and the Catholic University of the North in Chile. The results have been published in a paper in the journal Astrobiology.