A COUNTY tourist hotspot could provide the answer to life on Mars, scientists have discovered.

Researchers from Imperial College London discovered that St Oswald’s Bay between Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door is an environment that mimics what it might have been like on the Red Planet billions of years ago.

Scientists found traces of fatty acids – key building blocks of biological cells – in the county’s highly acidic sulphur streams which bear a striking similarity to those found on Mars could hint that life may have once existed on the Red Planet.

The fatty acids come from the decomposed harbour bacteria, preserved in rock which thrive in the sulphur stream conditions.

Now scientists have said that if the bacteria can survive the extreme conditions in the streams they may once have lived on Mars.

Researcher Jonathan Tan, from Imperial College London, said: “St Oswald’s Bay is a present-day microcosm of middle-aged Mars.

“As the acid streams dry up, like during Mars’ ‘drying period’, they leave geothite minerals behind which preserve fatty acids that act as biological signatures.”

Scientists also noted that the iron-rich mineral goethite turns to hematite which is very common on Mars and gives the planet its red colour.

Examining rock deposits around St Oswald’s Bay, the scientists also found goethite hosting many microbes as well as traces of their fossilised organic remains.

Assuming their concentration matches that on Earth, there might be the equivalent of nearly 12,000 Olympic-size pools of fatty acids preserved in Martian rock, they calculated.

Professor Mark Sephton, head of Imperial’s Department of Earth Science & Engineering, added: “Mars harboured water billions of years ago, meaning some form of life might have thrived there.

“If life existed before the water dried up, it would probably have left remains that are preserved to this day in Martian rock.”

The study and research was funded by the UK Space Agency.