We want to found life in Mars

In Ríotinto, one of the best  terrestrial analogs of Mars, has been testing a prototype instrument in order to detect life on Mars.

Until 20 years ago it was not known if the solar system was unique. In 1995 the first exoplanet was detected (already a few years earlier had detected planets orbiting pulsars, but not normal stars). That discovery marked a change in our understanding of the universe: planetary system as we were not alone in the universe. It now remains to take the next step, finding life beyond Earth to show us that we are definitely not alone. Whether in one of the thousands of known exoplanets or those to find (it is thought that at least in our galaxy there are more than one billion planetary systems), detecting life outside our solar system it seems out of reach capacity Current technology. So we direct our efforts to detect it in our neighborhood. Of all the potentially habitable places for their environmental conditions Mars is the best candidate.
Except Viking in 1976, the Mars mission sent have not been clearly among any biological instruments in order to detect life. The interest mainly focused on comparatively study the Martian geology and know its complicated atmosphere.

Now it is developing a joint proposal by NASA-Ames Research Center and the Center for Astrobiology (CAB, CSIC-INTA) to build a toolkit with the aim of finding life on Mars. The project is called Life-Detection Analog Mars Project (GCAP), with Brian Glass (NASA-Ames) as principal investigator and Victor Parro (CAB) as co-investigator, and is integrated as a key element in IceBreaker (icebreaker), a proposal mission of NASA-Ames Research Center for the call Discovery 2014 (missions to the Solar System).

The proposed instrument is a punch to the Martian soil for Honeybee Robotics developed by NASA-Ames complemented by a series of analytical elements between which is SOLID (Signs of Life Detector, detector for signs of life), developed by the CAB.

"We want to know if there is life on Mars and we have the appropriate instrumentation. The collaboration with NASA-Ames IceBreaker power to participate in our ability to detect life beyond Earth," said Victor Parro, Head of the Department of Molecular Evolution and co CAB -investigator in this proposal.

LMAP be funded from the Moon and Mars Analogue Missions Activities (MMAMA) of NASA program whose main objective is to increase the technological maturity to develop a system of drilling and underground sampling to search for life. As part of the development of this ensemble has scheduled a series of test campaigns on terrestrial analogs of Mars to check its performance in conditions more similar to the real mission. One of the places on Earth most like Mars is Ríotinto so for about two weeks a group of researchers from the CAB and NASA-Ames have been working in this place for testing the drilling system and its coupling with SOLID on a real size mock lander the Phoenix probe sent to Mars in 2008, very similar to the proposal Icebreaker. They have been tested the most critical elements: the piercing, sampling, and delivery to SOLID SOLID's analysis in situ.

"We chose Ríotinto for testing by their mineralogy and extreme conditions similar to some regions of Mars life" notes Brian Glass, a scientist at NASA-Ames Research Center and principal investigator of this proposal.

About IceBreaker

IceBreaker (icebreaker) proposes sending a lander (lander) similar to the one sent in the Phoenix mission in 2008 to the northern regions, where the presence of water ice just centimeters (6-10) of the observed surface. It is permanently ice water (permafrost) as in the polar regions and circumpolar Earth. Previous studies by other researchers suggest that Mars has changed tilt (obliquity) many times in the past 10 million years. In those periods of greater inclination, solar radiation has been greatest in the polar regions of the north, so that the temperature quite possibly exceeded zero. Because these areas have a lower altitude, atmospheric pressure is a bit higher, so that may have liquid water for relatively long periods.

Currently, NASA is evaluating proposals for future missions to the Solar System in its program Discovery 2014 IceBreaker is one of the proposals in this competition with the aim of finding life on the frozen ground regions of the Martian North Pole have jointly presented the NASA Ames Research Centre and the CAB. The proposal includes SOLID as one of the key instruments of the mission by the piercer developed by Honeybee Robotics. , SOLID currently in version 3.1, and LDChip have been tested in various campaigns in similar environments on Mars as Rio Tinto, Antarctica, Atacama, the Arctic or deep mines of South Africa. The decision is expected in September 2015 and, if selected IceBreaker, all instruments must start Phase A development, including SOLID.


SOLID (Signs of Life Detector) is an instrument designed and built in the CAB for the detection and identification of microorganisms and biochemical compounds using automated analysis of solid samples (soil, ground rocks or ice) and liquid samples.

SOLID is the heart of most biochip 300 antibodies, called LDChip (Chip Life detector) to detect a similar number of compounds or microbes.

SOLID can analyze a sample as small as half a gram of soil. Once introduced, SOLID dissolves and removes organic and biological materials using ultrasound. Then, the sample filtered and the panel faces antibody biochip. If there's any biological material in the sample, even traces of microorganisms, which is similar to the antibodies used, then it retains biochip. By fluorescent and using a laser and a camera substances biochip antibodies detected microorganisms are identified residues. That way we can tell whether the sample analyzed is alive now or had in the past.

SOLID has been possible thanks to the work of a large multidisciplinary team of CAB which has been gaining experience over many years in detecting signs of life on land and improving step by step the instrument in its successive versions.

More information


Figure 1: Detail ensemble for IceBreaker with SOLID first. Credits: CAB / NASA-Ames.

Figure 2: Drilling and engagement with SOLID on a model of the lander Phoenix probe. Credits: CAB / NASA-Ames.

Figure 3: SOLID Details inside the instrument prepared for sample analysis. Credits: CAB / NASA-Ames.

Figure 4: Brian Glass with drilling extracting soil samples for delivery to SOLID for analysis. Credits: CAB / NASA-Ames.

Figure 5: Control the entire instrument consists of the drilling and SOLID. Credits: CAB / NASA-Ames.

Figure 6: firstly drilling with SOLID behind Ríotinto performing trials. Credits: CAB / NASA-Ames.


Victor Parro, Head of the Department of Molecular Evolution, Centre for Astrobiology (CSIC-INTA)

Scientific Culture Unit CAB


Fuente: UCC-CAB


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