When the scientists were looking for life on the Red Planet, Dorset’s countryside was already standing in front of Mars.
By studying rivers on the Jurassic Coast, experts calculated how many organic substances we might find on Mars and where to look for them.
When they applied the results to the Red Planet, they concluded that there could be nearly 12,000 Olympic-size organic material pools on Mars.
The team found traces of fatty acids in the acidic flow of Dorset – a key building block for biological cells.
Because the modern stream in Dorset resembles the ancient waterways of Mars, these findings suggest that life existed on the Red Planet billions of years ago.
Dorset has a highly acidic stream of sulfur that can carry bacteria that grow under extreme conditions.
One such environment, in St. Oswald Bay near Weymouth, simulates conditions on Mars billions of years ago.
Researchers at Imperial College London viewed the landscape as a template for Mars and examined the organic matter stored in nearby rock deposits.
The iron-rich mineral goethite transforms into the most common hematite on Mars and gives it a red planet.
If iron-rich minerals contain traces of life on Earth, then scientists say they may have clues about the past microbiological life on the Red Planet.
Research co-author Jonathan said frankly: “St. Oswald Bay is a microcosm of medieval Mars today.
“As the acid stream dries up, like in the “drying phase” of Mars, they leave goethite minerals behind which retain fatty acids as biological signatures.
Their study found that goethite in St. Oswald Bay contains many microbes and their fossil residues.
The researchers applied these results to the Mars environment.
Based on the amount of rocks in the acidic environment of Mars, and assuming that the concentration of fatty acids in the Martian sediments matches the concentration of fatty acids on Earth, the fatty acids preserved in Martin Rock may be as high as 28.6 million tons.
This is equivalent to nearly 12,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Previous tasks to find traces of life have used heat to check for the presence of organic matter in the rock.
Scientists suspect that this heat may cause minerals to react with any organic matter and explain why we have not yet found traces of life.
But heating goethite or hematite does not destroy any organic matter there, which means that these minerals may be the ideal target for finding life.
Professor Mark Sephton, co-author of the Imperial College, said: “Mars had water decades ago, which means that some form of life may be thriving there.
“If life already existed before the water was depleted, the remains it may have left in the rock of Mars so far.
“However, we have yet to find any convincing signs of organic matter. These signs indicate past life on the Red Planet.
“Now we should let Dorset’s landscape guide our life exploration work on the Red Planet.”
Researchers say that if traces of life are found on Mars, it may form bacteria that can multiply in extreme environments – such as the acidic flow on Earth.
They want to program the next life search mission to Mars, Mars in 2020, look for dry streams, and check for sediments that contain fatty acids.