30/08/2019

Researh On Atacama As Hyperarid Analogue To Mars



On June 2018 two projects from the GAS team were selected within the Mohammed bin Rashid (MBR) Space Settlement Challenge of the Dubai Future Foundation: “Water farming on Mars: In-situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) for future Mars exploration and Earth arid regions” and “Investigation of transport of biomass and aerosols through the atmosphere in Mars analogues: implication for planetary protection during colonization and exploration”. Each project was granted with a “seed” funding for 6 months. This call funded 35 successful applications through Guaana.com open research platform. The MBR Centre for Accelerated Research has showcased the project “Water farming on Mars: In-situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) for future Mars exploration and Earth arid regions”, led by Prof. Javier Martín-Torres, together with other seven projects as example of research that can have the potential of helping us back on Earth.

The second project, “Investigation of transport of biomass and aerosols through the atmosphere in Mars analogues: implication for planetary protection during colonization and exploration” has produced novel results which have been reported to the Dubai Future Foundation and published in two articles that are attracting considerable attention. The main goal of the project proposed and led by Prof. Maria-Paz Zorzano to the MBR Space Settlement Challenge call was to investigate the role of atmospheric circulation on the aerial transport of biomass and aerosols in one of the most arid environments on Earth, the Atacama Desert (Chile). The team investigated the Atacama as an analogue for biomass and contamination transportation on Mars. The desert was also chosen to improve our understanding of the environmental conditions in hyper arid regions (on Earth) and assess and calibrate the performance of numerical models against the available observations (from remote sensing platforms and in-situ surface weather stations). Finally, this hyper-arid environment is optimal to investigate the life forms that may be aerially transported and survive in this location by identifying the microbial species that may grow in various growing media and directly analysing the Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) of dust samples to assess the identity of non-cultivable microorganisms arriving at each site.

The main results of this work have been summarized in two articles which are attracting considerable attention:



Team scientists in sterile garment during one of the sampling campaigns. | Credits: Armando Azua-Bustos and project “Investigation of transport of biomass and aerosols through the atmosphere in Mars analogues: implication for planetary protection during colonization and exploration”. PI: María-Paz Zorzano

An example of the several microbial isolates found in this study. | Credits: Armando Azua-Bustos and project “Investigation of transport of biomass and aerosols through the atmosphere in Mars analogues: implication for planetary protection during colonization and exploration”. PI: María-Paz Zorzano