Mars Extant Life: What's Next? Conference Report

B. L. Carrier, D. W. Beaty, M. A. Meyer, J. G. Blank, L. Chou, S. Dassarma, D. J. Des Marais, J. L. Eigenbrode, N. Grefenstette, N. L. Lanza, A. C. Schuerger, P. Schwendner, H. D. Smith, C. R. Stoker, J. D. Tarnas, K. D. Webster, C. Bakermans, B. K. Baxter, M. S. Bell, S. A. BennerH. H. Bolivar Torres, P. J. Boston, R. Bruner, B. C. Clark, P. Dassarma, A. E. Engelhart, Z. E. Gallegos, Z. K. Garvin, P. J. Gasda, J. H. Green, R. L. Harris, M. E. Hoffman, T. Kieft, A. H.D. Koeppel, P. A. Lee, X. Li, K. L. Lynch, R. MacKelprang, P. R. Mahaffy, L. H. Matthies, M. A. Nellessen, H. E. Newsom, D. E. Northup, B. R.W. O'Connor, S. M. Perl, R. C. Quinn, L. A. Rowe, B. Sauterey, M. A. Schneegurt, D. Schulze-Makuch, L. A. Scuderi, M. N. Spilde, V. Stamenković, J. A. Torres Celis, D. Viola, B. D. Wade, C. J. Walker, R. C. Wiens, A. J. Williams, J. M. Williams, J. Xu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


On November 5-8, 2019, the "Mars Extant Life: What's Next?"conference was convened in Carlsbad, New Mexico. The conference gathered a community of actively publishing experts in disciplines related to habitability and astrobiology. Primary conclusions are as follows: A significant subset of conference attendees concluded that there is a realistic possibility that Mars hosts indigenous microbial life. A powerful theme that permeated the conference is that the key to the search for martian extant life lies in identifying and exploring refugia ("oases"), where conditions are either permanently or episodically significantly more hospitable than average. Based on our existing knowledge of Mars, conference participants highlighted four potential martian refugium (not listed in priority order): Caves, Deep Subsurface, Ices, and Salts. The conference group did not attempt to reach a consensus prioritization of these candidate environments, but instead felt that a defensible prioritization would require a future competitive process. Within the context of these candidate environments, we identified a variety of geological search strategies that could narrow the search space. Additionally, we summarized a number of measurement techniques that could be used to detect evidence of extant life (if present). Again, it was not within the scope of the conference to prioritize these measurement techniques-that is best left for the competitive process. We specifically note that the number and sensitivity of detection methods that could be implemented if samples were returned to Earth greatly exceed the methodologies that could be used at Mars. Finally, important lessons to guide extant life search processes can be derived both from experiments carried out in terrestrial laboratories and analog field sites and from theoretical modeling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)785-814
Number of pages30
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Shiladitya DasSarma acknowledges support by NASA grant 80NSSC19K0463. Peter Lee acknowledges support from NASA grant 80NSSC17K0243 and NSF grant OCE-1428915. Andrew Schuerger and Petra Schwendner recognize support from a NASA Planetary Protection Research program grant (80NSSC17K0263).

Publisher Copyright:
© B.L. Carrier, D.W. Beaty, M.A. Meyer, et al., 2020; Published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. 2020.


  • Astrobiology
  • Biosignatures
  • Life detection
  • Life in extreme environments
  • Mars extant life


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