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

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

NASA says Salda’s minerals and rock deposits are the closest on earth to those around the Jezero Crater where the spacecraft landed and which has already been inundated with water.

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

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

A team of American and Turkish planetologists conducted research in 2019 on the shores of the lake, known as the Maldives in Turkey because of its azure water and white shores.

Scientists believe the sediment around the lake eroded from large mounds formed with the help of microbes and known as microbialites.

The team behind the Perseverance rover, the most advanced astrobiology lab ever sent to another world, wants to find out if there are any microbes in Jezero Crater.

They will also compare the sediments at Salda Beach with carbonate minerals – formed from carbon dioxide and water, a key ingredient for life – detected on the edges of Jezero Crater.

“When we find something at Perseverance, we can go back to Lake Salda to really look at both processes, (look at) the similarities but just as importantly the differences that really exist between Perseverance and Lake Salda,” Zurbuchen said.

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

Rock samples drilled in Martian soil must be stored on the surface for possible recovery and delivery to Earth by two future robotic missions, starting in 2031.

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

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