“It's the closest match we have on Earth to Mars (Image: GETTY)
The robot was tested in the Atacama Desert in Chile, the most Mars-like environment on Earth. A soil sample collected by the robot included unusual microbes, which had adapted to deal with very low qualities of water and nutrients. This finding raised suspicions that similar microbes could be found on Mars.
Professor Stephen Pointing, who led the research, said: “We have shown that a robotic rover can recover subsurface soil in the most Mars-like desert on Earth.
“This is important because most scientists agree that any life on Mars would have to occur below the surface to escape the harsh surface conditions where high radiation, low temperature and lack of water make life unlikely.
“We found microbes adapted to high salt levels, similar to what may be expected in the Martian subsurface. These microbes are very different from those previously known to occur on the surface of deserts.”
The microbes were able to spread out further in patches,