Windy, dry and desert… There was nothing to suggest that life was possible on the peaks of the Puna de Atacama volcanoes in Chile and Argentina. And yet Jay Storz, a biologist at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, and his fellow researchers in these fields, whose surface resembles that of Mars, made a strange discovery. They traveled to 21 peaks, including 18 at altitudes greater than 6,000 meters, and found 13 mummified mice, some accompanied by skeletal remains of other congeners, according to a study published Oct. 23 in the journal Current Biology.
The first rodent mummy appeared on the summit of the Salín volcano. The research team came across a desiccated corpse near a pile of rocks. “When my climbing partner and I began searching the remaining rocks, we found seven more mummies on the same peak,” Jay Storz recalled in a University of Nebraska press release. Exceptionally, they set out to search for further evidence on the summits of all the Andean volcanoes. So far they have covered 21.
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Living at over 6,000 meters altitude
Some mummified mice were at most a few decades old, according to the press release. Others would be up to 350 years old. This is a species with leafy spikes, but is known to live at lower altitudes in the region and is called Phyllotis vaccarum.
In order for “the fauna and flora to appear discreetly around the water bodies present on the Altiplano at altitudes below 4,000 meters,” as confirmed by the Center for Petrographic and Geochemical Research of the University of Lorraine, the experts assumed that mammalian life was simply not possible in these areas over 6,000 meters, reports the University of Nebraska.
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An environment close to the surface of Mars
“The most surprising thing about our discovery is that mammals could live on the tops of volcanoes in such an inhospitable, Mars-like environment,” explains Jay Storz. Due to the thin atmosphere and frigid temperatures, the volcanoes of Puna de Atacama remain the closest terrestrial environment to the Martian surface. Several expeditions were also carried out there, for example that of Dr. Horodysky, geologist and American astronaut candidate whose goal was to “train candidates from the commercial astronaut program PoSSUM and a candidate from the MARS ONE project who were preselected for a vacation to Mars.” permanently over the next decade,” as reported by the Huffington Post in an article published on March 11, 2017.
But how then can mammals live in a barren and rocky world dominated by snow and ice? How can they withstand temperatures that never exceed 0°C and oxygen levels that are far below average? Work is underway at the University of Nebraska to find out.
On the same topic:
⋙ According to a study, 22 people (and maybe you too) are enough to populate Mars
⋙ According to a study, mice took advantage of humans to conquer the world
⋙ In order to be able to build on Mars, NASA wants to melt the moon