Halophiles, Continental Evaporites and the Search for Biosignatures in Environmental Analogues for Mars

  • Roberto Barbieri
  • Nunzia Stivaletta
Part of the Cellular Origin, Life in Extreme Habitats and Astrobiology book series (COLE, volume 24)


In the current decade, two Martian missions are planned by NASA and ESA having as primary target the search for possible signs of past or present life: Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), which is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, and the ExoMars of ESA’s Aurora Programme. The reasons that make Mars of special interest from an astrobiological perspective include its nearness, some of the present-day physical characteristics of the planet’s surface, and its geological history. Mars seems to have experienced earthlike conditions in its geological past, with lots of liquid water (Squyres and Kasting, 1994; Hynek and Phillips, 2003; Baker, 2006) that was able to produce the depositional processes and the erosional features described in different regions. Recently formed water features have also been described (e.g., gullies on cliffs and crater walls, Malin and Edgett, 2000), and they suggest that near surface, liquid water may episodically be present currently. Other conditions suitable for life (for example: a warmer climate) likely characterized the planet during the earlier phases of its geological history. Periods with a possible robust greenhouse warming may have taken place in the early Mars, during the Late Noachian-Hesperian period, through the combined effect in the atmosphere of gases, such as CO2, NH3, and CH4, which might have maintained a surface temperature above the freezing point of water (Beaty et al., 2005). The finding – by rovers and, remotely, by orbiters and spectrometers – of salt- (especially hydrated sulfate) rich deposits in different areas of the Martian surface (Squyres et al., 2004; Vaniman et al., 2004; Gendrin et al., 2005; Langevin et al., 2005) is a further indication of past aqueous processes.


Qaidam Basin Martian Surface Salt Crust Mars Science Laboratory Salt Environment 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


5. Acknowledgments

This work was financially supported by the MIUR-PRIN (2006) program “Geomicrobiology of continental evaporite deposits: comparative analysis of fossil and modern settings and relevance to astrobiology” and Progetto Strategico Atacama of the University of Bologna.

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra e Geologico-ambientaliUniversity of BolognaBolognaItaly

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