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Morphological Biosignatures from Subsurface Environments: Recognition on Planetary Missions

  • B. A. HofmannEmail author
Part of the Space Sciences Series of ISSI book series (SSSI, volume 25)

Abstract

The Earth is inhabited by life not just at its surface, but down to a depth of kms. Like surface life, this deep subsurface life produces a fossil record, traces of which may be found in the pore space of practically all rock types. The (palaeo)subsurface of other planetary bodies is therefore a promising target in the search for another example of life. Subsurface filamentous fabrics (SFFs), i.e. mineral encrustations of a filament-based textural framework, occur in many terrestrial rocks representing present or ancient subsurface settings. SFF are interpreted as mineral encrustations on masses of filaments/pseudofilaments of microbial origin. SFF are a common example of the fossil record of subsurface life. Macroscopic (pseudostalactites, U-shapes) and microscopic (filaments) characteristics make SFF’s a biosignature that can be identified with relative ease. SFF in the subsurface are probably about as common and easily recognizable as are stromatolites in surface environments. Close-up imagers (∼50 micron/pixel resolution) and microscopes (∼3 micron/pixel resolution) on upcoming Mars lander missions are crucial instruments that will allow the recognition of biofabrics of surface- and subsurface origin. The resolution available however will not allow the recognition of small (∼1 micron) individual mineralized microbial cells. The microscopy of unprepared rock surfaces would benefit from the use of polarizing filters to reduce surface reflectance and enhance internally reflected light. Tests demonstrate the potential to visualize mineralized filaments using this procedure.

Keywords

Biosignatures Subsurface biosphere Mars 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, BV 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Natural History Museum BernBernSwitzerland

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