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The search for life on Mars just got a lot more interesting.

For decades, scientists have looked at the dry and dusty planet and focused on finding regions where life could have taken root billions of years ago, when the Martian climate was warmer and wetter. But on July 25, researchers announced they had spotted signs of a large lake of liquid water hiding beneath thick layers of ice near the Red Planet’s south pole (SN Online: 7/26/18).

If the lake’s existence is confirmed, we could find microbes living on Mars today.

That report changes the calculus for astrobiologists who want to protect any existing extraterrestrial life from being wiped out or obscured by introduced species from Earth (SN: 1/20/18, p. 22). Mars landers and rovers are cleaned to strict standards to avoid any possible contamination, even “without having anything you’d even call a pond,” says astrobiologist Lisa Pratt, NASA’s planetary protection officer. “Now we have a report of a possible subglacial lake! That’s a major change in the kind of environment we’re trying to protect.”

So how does finding the lake change the quest for life on Mars?

To read more, click here.