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Maria Elena South, driest place on earth, discovered in Atacama Desert

May 20, 2015 15:14 IST

The researchers have discovered the driest place on the Earth in the Atacama Desert in Chile. The site discovered is referred as Maria Elena South (MES).

The results of the discovery was presented in the paper, Discovery and microbial content of the driest site of the hyperarid Atacama Desert, Chile, published in March 2015 in the journal Environmental Microbiology Reports.

The lead author was Armando Azua-Bustos, an environmental biologist and research scientist at the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science in Seattle, US.

This discovery toppled the Yungay region which was so far the driest area of the hyper-arid Atacama Desert. Yungay region conditions were close to the so-called dry limit for life on Earth. However, with this discovery, MES is much drier than Yungay.

MES is dry as Mars and has a mean atmospheric relative humidity (RH) of 17.3 percent. It has a soil RH of a constant 14 percent at a depth of one meter.

Soil value taken from the MES site matches the lowest RH measurements taken on Mars by the Mars Science Laboratory at Gale Crater.

The fact that the conditions at MES site, in terms of dryness, are the closest to Mars it means that it is one of the best analogue models on Earth to understand and investigate the potential existence, and type of, microbial life in the Martian subsurface.

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