How a lake in Turkey may hold secrets to life on Mars

As Nasa's Perseverance rover explores the Red Planet, scientists hunting for signs of ancient life there use data from closer to home

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As Nasa's Perseverance rover explores the surface of Mars, scientists hunting for signs of ancient life on the Red Planet are using data gathered at a lake in south-west Turkey.

Nasa said the minerals and rock deposits at Lake Salda, about 150 kilometres north of Antalya, are the nearest match on Earth to those around the Jezero Crater, where Perseverance landed. The site is believed to have once been flooded with water.

Information gathered from Lake Salda may help the Mars scientists as they search for fossilised traces of microbial life preserved in sediment thought to have been deposited around the delta and the long-vanished lake it once fed.

"Salda will serve as a powerful analogue in which we can learn and interrogate," Thomas Zurbuchen, Nasa associate administrator for science, told Reuters.

A team of American and Turkish planetary scientists carried out research in 2019 on the shorelines of the lake, known as Turkey's Maldives because of its azure water and white shores.

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

The team behind the Perseverance rover, the most advanced astrobiology lab yet flown to another world, wants to find out whether there are microbialites in Jezero Crater.

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

"When we find something at Perseverance we can go back to look at Lake Salda to really look at both processes, [looking at] similarities but equally importantly differences that are really between Perseverance and Lake Salda," Mr Zurbuchen said.

"So we are really glad we have that lake, just because I think it will be with us for a long time."

Samples of rock drilled from Martian soil are to be stored on the surface for eventual retrieval and delivery to Earth by two robotic missions as early as 2031.