The Discovery of Life on Mars May Be Possible, Thanks to AI and Chile’s Desert

Artificial intelligence is able to recognize certain patterns in geographic data, which can determine the presence of life on Mars. This is evidenced by trials in Chile’s Atacama Desert, which closely resembles the plains of the Red Planet.

Why is this important?

The search for life on Mars has been going on for many years and is being carried out by several space agencies, including NASA and ESA. So any technological breakthrough that can shed light on the matter – and save a lot of money – is more than welcome to the experts in the field.

The essence: Artificial intelligence and machine learning could greatly help researchers find signs of life on Mars.

  • An international team of researchers led by astrobiologist Kimberley Warren-Rhodes of the SETI Institute shows that these tools can identify “hidden patterns” in geographic data that could indicate the presence of life.

Our research allows us to combine the power of statistical ecology with machine learning to discover the patterns and rules by which nature survives and spreads across the world’s harshest landscapes. With these models, we can design custom roadmaps and algorithms to direct the rovers to the places where life is most likely to exist past or present, no matter how hidden or rare.

Kimberley Warren-Rhodes, astrobiologist, in a article from the SETI Institute.
  • In the future, it may thus be possible to automate the use of machine learning algorithms and models to detect different types of habitable environments and biosignatures (evidence of life).
  • These technologies could be carried on planetary robots to help mission planners find the areas most likely to harbor life.
  • This would reduce the number of failed quests, which cost astronomical sums.

The details: The team tested these instruments by mapping the life hidden in the salt domes, rocks and crystals of the Salar de Pajonales, on the border of the Chilean Atacama Desert and the Altiplano.

  • It is a former riverbed, one of the driest places on Earth, where it has not rained for decades, and is therefore comparable to the plains on Mars.
  • At an altitude of 3,541 meters, it is exposed to a lot of UV radiation.
  • It is also low in oxygen, extremely dry and salty… yet there is life underground hidden in mineral formations.

There is more: Scientists also use drones to take aerial images that are then converted into 3D models.

  • All this information is then fed into “convolutional neural networks” to train the AI ​​to recognize the structures in the terrain most likely to contain life.
  • These tools allowed the researchers to correctly identify biosignatures in 87.5 percent of cases.
  • This reduces the amount of terrain on Mars that must be explored to look for life by 85 to 97 percent.

What are the current missions?

NASA has several ongoing and future missions to Mars, all intended to better understand the Red Planet and determine whether life may or may have ever existed there.

  • The Mars 2020 mission, which sent the Perseverance rover to Mars in February 2021, is equipped with advanced scientific instruments to analyze the planet’s soil and rocks. Its mission is to study the geology of Mars and map its landscape.
    • The rover is also equipped with a drone called Ingenuity, which makes reconnaissance flights over the planet’s deep rifts.
  • The European ESA initially planned a mission for 2022, ExoMars called, which would send a rover to Mars to conduct advanced scientific analysis and search for signs of life.
    • However, the war in Ukraine forced the European Space Agency to suspend the mission. It now plans into the mission 2028 to resume.
  • In addition to space missions, scientists also use telescopes to better study Mars and detect possible signs of distant life.
    • Of Hubble Space Telescope used to study the Red Planet’s atmosphere and observe dust storms on its surface.
    • Of Keck telescopeone of the largest optical telescopes in the world, studies the surface of Mars and its atmosphere.
    • Of Very Large Telescope (VLT), an array of four giant telescopes in Chile’s Atacama Desert, is analyzing the features of the planet’s surface.
    • Of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is a NASA spacecraft that has been orbiting Mars since 2006.


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