Life in the Atacama: A scoring system for habitability and the robotic exploration for life

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Abstract

[1] The science goals of the Life in the Atacama (LITA) robotic field experiment are to understand habitat and seek out life in the Atacama Desert, Chile, as an analog to future missions to Mars. To those ends, we present a new data analysis tool, the LITA Data Scoring System (DSS), which (1) integrates rover and orbital data relevant to environmental habitability and life detection, and (2) provides a standard metric, or “score” to evaluate (a) the potential habitability, and (b) the strength of evidence for life at all locales along the rover's traverse. Designed and tested during the 2005 field campaign, first results from the DSS indicate that the three selected sites in the Atacama Desert are generally inhospitable. The strength of evidence for life is positively correlated with potential habitability at two of the three sites. Using factor analysis, we find three factors explain 79.9% of the variance in biological observations and five factors explain 96.2% of the variance in potential habitability across all sites. These factors are used to focus a discussion of scoring variable definitions for future robotic missions in the Atacama and of instrument selection and strategy development for future robotic missions on Earth and Mars.

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