Mine life may show how Martian life exists

Dec. 22, 2008 at 2:21 PM
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TOWER, Minn., Dec. 22 (UPI) -- Scientists could learn about Martian water life by plumbing a spring in an iron ore mine in Minnesota's Iron Range, University of Minnesota researchers say.

The researchers say microorganisms in the lowest levels of the spring could be a boon for scientists interested in studying possible life on Mars, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported Monday, because the mine water was held by rock formed 2.7 billion years ago when water was plentiful but oxygen wasn't.

Scientists said they found bacteria after noticing formations emerging from boreholes miners drilled some 50 years ago in the northern Minnesota mine. Salty water lacking oxygen united with air to create dynamic iron oxide structures, they said.

Calvin Alexander, a geology and geophysics professor, said he wondered what parallels could be drawn to Mars, believed to have an iron oxide-rich soil, the Pioneer Press said. The researcher said formations found in the mine are similar to some in images of the Martian surface.

"There are rimstone dams in the cave growing from strong brines -- and we see rimstone dams on Mars,'' he told the newspaper of dams formed by water running over the edge of a pool and depositing material at the lowest point on the edge. "This could potentially explain how liquid water runs on the surface of Mars under current conditions.''

Alexander and other university scientists said they've applied for grants to study the microorganisms, water and formations created in the mine.

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