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Scientists examine Rotorua's silica deposits for clues about life on Mars

Are we alone? It's a question that has driven generations of scientists.

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Kiwi scientists are studying silica growths found near hot pools, as similar formations have been found on the Red Planet. Source: Aotearoa Science Agency

NASA's Perserverance Rover searching for proof of life on Mars but our most active geological regions might provide ancient clues.

Rotorua’s geothermal landscape, for example, has the potential to tell us so much more.

“Today we are out sampling for our Rotorua on Mars project, which is looking at the possibility of life on Mars,” says Michaela Dobson of Auckland University.

Scientists are focusing on small silica growths, found around the outside of hot pools. Inside them are the remains of microbes - simple life.

“We know that these growths contain tons of microbes really, really well preserved and we've been looking at hot spring deposits from way, way back billions of years ago and can still identify microbial remains,” says PHD student, Annaliese Meyer.

Similar silica formations have been found on Mars, the question is, whether they too contain evidence of life.

“When that rover found these deposits of silica that look like little fingers that were growing upwards in the hot springs, we immediately turn our sights back to places like Rotorua, Yellowstone and we take a look and find similar kinds of features,” says Kathleen Campbell from Auckland University.

The team are studying the samples under an electron microscope to understand if they can only exist in the presence of life.

“We're trying to figure out whether or not they're caused by biological or physical factors, whether not I can make them grow in a lab without microbes,” Meyer says.

“We want to go of course to Mars, get some of these samples bring them back here and find out if there's signs of life in there and if that's the case then we found a second genesis of life in the solar system,” Campbell says.