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Signs of life can survive on Mars

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Microscopic signs of life shown to survive the harsh environment on Mars

An instrument similar to those used on Earth by art detectives and to sense explosives at airports will be taken into space for the first time by ExoMars, the European Space Agency’s mission to Mars in 2018. This Raman spectrometer will help space scientists to hunt for traces of Martian life.

Astrobiologists, who will be presenting their work at the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) 2013 in London on Monday 9 September, have shown that Raman spectroscopy can be used to detect micro-organisms even after they have been damaged by exposure to very high levels of radiation, as is encountered on the Martian surface. Unlike the Earth, Mars has no substantial atmosphere or global magnetic field, and so is completely unprotected against the flood of energetic radiation particles from outer space. This cosmic radiation is a problem for human astronauts, but also for the survival of simple life – or even signs of its previous existence - in the martian ground.

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