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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 1999 > Jan > Jan 30

Researchers Study New Mexico, Mars

From: Steven L. Wilson Sr <Ndunlks@aol.com>
Date: Fri, 29 Jan 1999 14:23:32 EST
Fwd Date: Sat, 30 Jan 1999 16:37:32 -0500
Subject: Researchers Study New Mexico, Mars


 Researchers Study New Mexico, Mars

 .c The Associated Press

  By CHAKA FERGUSON

 CARLSBAD, N.M. (AP) -- Deep in the subterranean reaches of the
Spider Cave, there is little to sustain life. No sunlight,
little water and few nutrients make this one of the most hostile
environments in the world.

 Yet somehow, scientists have found microscopic creatures
dwelling in the eternal darkness. By probing the nooks and
crannies of the Spider Cave, they hope to answer a question for
the ages: Is there life on Mars?

 NASA planetary scientists are eager to review the findings.

 ``The work is very relevant to Mars because we know the surface
of Mars is as dead as a doornail and any life there -- if it
exists -- would live underground,'' said Chris McKay, a
planetary scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett
Field, Calif.

 Spider Cave, in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, feels as if it
might be on another planet. Dripping stalactites protrude from
the cave's ceiling, reaching out like great tentacles. And
gaping pits -- like giant moon craters -- are scattered
haphazardly across the cave floor. The silence is as deep as the
darkness.

 The cave got its name from the thousands of daddy longlegs that
once inhabited its entrance.

 Caves are isolated ecosystems low in organic nutrients. But the
microbes in the Spider Cave can survive without sunlight and
thrive on the basic elements -- such as iron, manganese and
sulfur -- found in the cave walls. Researchers have found
similar microbes living in other remote places -- polar caps,
ocean bottoms and mountain tops.

 Scientists think life might be able support itself on a planet
like Mars by feeding on underground chemicals, similar to the
way bacteria in the Spider Cave survive, said Penelope Boston,
part of a team of University of New Mexico researchers who have
been studying the cave for four years.

 Wearing elbow and knee pads and toting hard hats with
spotlights, scientists trek to the Spider Cave's research site
by hiking down a mile-long, winding trail and over rugged
terrain into a canyon. That's the easy part.

 They then descend 10 feet to the first narrow opening and worm
through a tight, 50-foot passage, no more than 3 feet wide and 2
feet high in some places.

 ``It's like being born again,'' quips geology student Justin
Pearce.

 After the first belly crawl, the cave opens into an intricate
web of passages that run up to four miles in every direction. A
marked trail keeps cavers from getting lost inside the
bewildering maze.

 The search for microscopic organisms may not have the appeal of
the search for intelligent life, but NASA's McKay said it's just
as important.

 ``If you look at our own planet Earth, for half of its history,
life was microscopic,'' McKay said. ``It's the first step to
more complicated life.''

 AP-NY-01-29-99 1306EST

  Copyright 1998 The Associated Press.  The information
contained in the AP news report may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without  prior
written authority of The Associated Press.


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