Mars Rocks Similar To Mexican Ones
October 29, 2012

Rocks In Mexico Similar To Those Found In Gale Crater

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

A team of researchers is claiming gypsum rocks found at Cuatro Ciénegas in Mexico are similar to those NASA's Curiosity rover is sitting at on Mars.

The team analyzed the bacterial communities that have survived after fire and water forged the rocks millions of years ago.

"Cuatro Ciénegas is extraordinarily similar to Mars. As well as the Gale crater where Curiosity is currently located on its exploration of the red planet, this landscape is the home to gypsum formed by fire beneath the seabed," Valeria Souza, evolutionary ecologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said in a statement.

She said sulphur components from magma and minerals from the sea are required to form gypsum. The magma under the seabed at the Cuatro Ciénegas Basin was very active and allowed for the continent displacement during the Jurassic Period.

"Here was where the supercontinent Pangea opened up some 200 million years ago, pushing the hemisphere north from the equator where it is now," Souza said in the statement.

The scientists have been unable to confirm tectonic movement in the crust on Mars but they believe a large meteorite crashed into its primitive sea.

Scientists have detected gypsum in the Gale crater, indicating that mineral-rich water was present and sulphur was able to form due to the impact of the meteorite.

Astrobiologists have used Cuatro Ciénegas to help understand how bacterial communities work at the site.

"This oasis in the middle of the Chihuahua desert is a time machine for organisms that, together as a community, have transformed our blue planet yet have survived all extinctions. How they have managed to do this can be revealed by their genes," says Souza.

The team analyzed "metagenomes," which is the genome of the different bacterial communities that proliferate in these marshes by adapting parallel strategies to overcome survival challenges.

They wrote in the journal Astrobiology about the existence of two communities in different pits. The "green" communities were formed by cyanobacteria and proteobacteria and have adapted to the lack of nitrogen.

The "red" community is made up of Pseudomonas and other micro-organisms that live with barely any phosphorous.

"Understanding the usage and exploitation strategies of phosphorous is necessary in understanding what could happen in extreme scenarios like on other planets where there is a possibly serious limitation to this and other nutrients," Luis David Alcaraz, Mexican researcher participating in the study from the Higher Public Health Research center of Valencia, Spain, said in a statement.

The Cuatro Ciénegas Flora and Fauna Protection Area is protected, but scientists are worried that water is being over-exhausted in the area.

"The bacterial communities have survived all types of cataclysms here such as the extinction of the dinosaurs or the majority of marine creatures. But, the only thing they are not adapted for is the lack of water," Souza warned in the statement.

The team received support from the National Science Foundation and NASA, which has been studying the area in Mexico for over a decade.