A thriving community of micro-organisms nestles two meters below the surface of the ultra-arid Atacama desert in Chile. The discovery, made as part of a dry run for a potential robotic Mars mission, suggests microbes could find a toehold on the Red Planet – but that rovers may have to dig deep to find them.

The Atacama desert, the most parched place on the planet, has long been considered a good Earthly analogue for Mars. The region gets rain only a few times a century, and the soil is full of salts similar to those found on the Red Planet.

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