In a harsh environment with very little water and intense ultraviolet radiation, most life in the extreme Atacama Desert in Chile exists as microbial colonies underground or inside rocks, researchers said.

The cold and dry conditions on Mars open the possibility that evidence for life may be found below the surface where negative effects of radiation are mitigated, in the form of organic molecules known as biomarkers, they said.

However, obtaining samples from below the surface of Mars will require the ability to identify a location of high probability for current or ancient life, place a drill, and control the operation robotically.

Despite being considerably warmer than Mars, the extreme dryness the soil chemistry in the hyperarid core of the Atacama Desert, the "driest place on Earth," are remarkably similar to that of the red planet.

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