Ancient Mars Had Energy Source for Potential Life Underground

26 Setiembre, 2018, 17:43 | Author: Enrique Watson

'Conditions in this habitable zone would have been similar to places on Earth where underground life exists'.

They discovered that Mars likely had a global surface that was habitable for several kilometers in thickness, and which would have persisted for hundreds of millions of years.

Data from the gamma ray spectrometer that rides the Odyssey spacecraft around Mars was crucial for the research team, who figured out the surface concentrations of radioactive elements thorium and potassium, which also told them how much uranium was also in the soil.

Scientists aren't sure what that surface looked like back then - whether it was relatively warm and wet majority time, or if ancient Mars was a profoundly chilly place where water flowed only transiently, during fleeting warm stretches.

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"People have a conception that a cold early Mars climate is bad for life, but what we show is that there's actually more chemical energy for life underground in a cold climate", said the study's lead author, Jesse Tarnas of Brown University, in a press statement.

In part, the paper focuses on the wealth of hydrogen that would likely have been present in the Martian soil some four billion years ago, as well as the existence of water on the surface. But while evidence of past water activity is unmistakable, it's not clear for how much of Martian history water actually flowed. Since the elements decay at constant rates, the researchers could calculate the abundances 4 billion years ago.

The life would have likely taken the form or microorganisms similar to those found on Earth's subsurface. Geological evidence suggests there would have been plenty of groundwater bubbling about in the porous rocks of the ancient Martian crust. They used geothermal and climate models to see which areas were warm enough to harbor liquid water, but weren't so warm that heat from Mars' core would harm the ecosystem. Vast communities of underground microbes here live in darkness without access to the Sun's chemical energy, the sole source of energy for most organisms on the planet. That's because a thicker layer of ice above the habitable zone serves as a lid that helps to keep hydrogen from escaping the subsurface.

'That's something we think could change people's perception of the relationship between climate and past life on Mars'. The area is now being considered as a landing site for NASA's Mars 2020 rover. Luckily, NASA's Mars 2020 rover will soon be heading to the Red Planet, and will use this new data to continue our never-ending search for Martian life. "Areas where you may have remnants of this underground habitable zone - which may have been the largest habitable zone on the planet - seem like a good place to target".

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