Mars on Earth: the Turkish lake may contain clues to ancient life on the planet


LAKE SALDA, Turkey (Reuters) – As NASA’s Perseverance rover scans the surface of Mars, scientists looking for signs of ancient life on the distant planet are using data collected on a mission much closer to home in a lake in the southwestern Turkey.

NASA says the mineral and rock deposits at Salda are the closest on earth to those around Jezero crater, where the spacecraft landed and which is believed to have once been flooded with water.

Information gathered from Lake Salda may help scientists in their search for fossilized traces of microbial life preserved in sediments believed to have been deposited around the delta and the long-lost lake that it once fed.

“Salda … will serve as a powerful analog in which we can learn and interrogate,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, told Reuters.

A team of American and Turkish planetary scientists conducted research in 2019 on the shores of the lake, known as Turkey’s Maldives because of its blue waters and white shores.

Scientists believe that the sediments around the lake were eroded from large mounds that are formed with the help of microbes and are known as microbialites.

The team behind the Perseverance rover, the most advanced astrobiology laboratory to ever fly to another world, wants to find out if there are microbialites in Jezero crater.

They will also compare the sediments of the Salda beach with carbonate minerals, formed from carbon dioxide and water, a key ingredient for life, detected on the margins of the Jezero crater.

“When we find something in Perseverance, we can look at Lake Salda again to really see both processes, (observe) similarities but equally important differences that are really between Perseverance and Lake Salda,” Zurbuchen said.

“So we are very happy to have that lake, just because I think it will be with us for a long time.”

Rock samples extracted from Martian soil will be stored on the surface for eventual retrieval and delivery to Earth in two future robotic missions, as early as 2031.

Reporting by Yesim Dikmen; Editing by Dominic Evans and Alison Williams

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