by Elton Gomes
Scientists have been meticulously exploring the surface of Mars for any signs of ancient life. By digging a little bit deeper, a team of researcher might have come across habitable zones in unexpected places on the Red planet.
After expanding their search, a team of researchers found that the Red planet’s ancient subsurface could have been home to microbial life for hundreds of millions of years.
Microbes could’ve obtained sufficient energy by borrowing hydrogen electrons from water. This energy would’ve been adequate for microbes to not only survive underground but also to thrive miles below the surface.
This research will benefit future missions in that they could search those areas where the subsurface is now exposed, thus being able to potentially prove the existence of Martian life.
“We showed, based on basic physics and chemistry calculations, that the ancient Martian subsurface likely had enough dissolved hydrogen to power a global subsurface biosphere,” said Jesse Tarnas, a graduate student at Brown University in the US, PTI reported.
What have the researchers found out?
The study has been published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters. It shows that radiolysis, which is a process through which radiation breaks water molecules into their constituent hydrogen and oxygen parts, would have created significant amounts of hydrogen on the ancient subsurface of Mars.
The researchers propose that large amounts of hydrogen in Mars’ crust around four billion years ago would have been sufficient to sustain plentiful microbes on Earth today.
“Conditions in this habitable zone would have been similar to places on Earth where underground life exists,” said Tarnas, PTI reported.
However, the findings do not mean that life definitely existed on ancient Mars. But they do suggest that if life had begun, the Martian subsurface had the key ingredients to support it for hundreds of millions of years, the researchers said.
NASA suggests Mars was habitable
Mars ancient subsurface made headlines in June, when NASA was said to have found the most comprehensive evidence. NASA scientists said that the best evidence that life once existed on Mars was revealed in 3-billion-year old organic matter in rocks and cyclical emissions of methane from the planet’s surface. The announcement was made in a press conference explaining recent discoveries by NASA’s Curiosity rover.
“What the organic detections in the rock do is to add to the story of habitability. It tells us that this ancient environment on Mars could have supported life,” NASA biochemist Jennifer Eigenbrode said. “Everything that was needed to support life was there. But it doesn’t tell us that life was there,” Sputnik News reported.
What does this mean for the search to find life on Mars
Researchers of the present study found that around 4 billion years ago, the Martian subsurface was soaking up enough hydrogen to energize microbes for hundreds of millions of years.
Their model shows that the microbes’ ecosystems extended several miles into Mars’ subsurface and could withstand warmer and cooler conditions than expected. Moreover, hydrogen molecules underground were trapped by a thick layer of ice, thus extremely cold regions became the ideal home for hungry microbes.
“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,” Jesse Tarnas said in a press statement. “That’s something we think could change people’s perception of the relationship between climate and past life on Mars.”
It has to be noted that there still are a lot of factors to take into consideration. More importantly, whether or not any sort of life has existed on Mars still remains unknown. However, showing that life would have had sufficient energy to survive brings us closer to potential signs of extraterrestrials.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius