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Dried-Up Lagoon Is ‘Time Analog’ for Martian Life

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As central Spain’s Tirez Lagoon dried up over 20 years, becoming entirely desiccated by 2015, its barren landscape began to evoke arid Martian plains. That resemblance, it turns out, could be useful: researchers are watching the newly dead lagoon’s microbial residents to learn what could have happened to hypothetical life on Mars when its salty lakes dried up billions of years ago.

“The take-home message is that if life existed on Mars when the planet had liquid water on the surface, the global desiccation of Mars would have not necessarily implied that life disappeared for good,” says Alberto G. Fairén, an astrobiologist at the Spanish Astrobiology Center in Madrid.

Analyzing microbes in Tirez soil samples from 2002 and 2021 for a study in Scientific Reports, Fairén and his colleagues found that single-celled organisms called prokaryotes had adapted to thrive in extremely dry sediments. These results suggest microbes that developed in wetter conditions could have endured after the Red Planet dried out. The researchers also measured traces of fatty acids called lipids,…

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