by Elton Gomes
Water on Mars could hold more oxygen than previously believed. The water could be enough to support aerobic respiration, according to a new research that runs contrary to traditional beliefs about the Red planet’s habitability.
The researchers conducting the study thought organisms that require oxygen wouldn’t be able to survive on Mars, since the atmosphere is so thin. In addition, water on Mars has only been confirmed in the form of ice or hydrated minerals. So previously, the possibility of salty, oxygen-rich puddles of water beneath Mars’ surface was not considered.
What has the study found
The study was conducted by scientists from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The scientists calculated that if liquid water exists on Mars, it could — under specific conditions — contain more oxygen than previously thought.
According to the study published in Nature Geoscience , the oxygen levels could theoretically exceed the threshold needed to support simple aerobic life.
Using sophisticated computer models, the team determined that it is possible for puddles to exist and potentially support microbes. Mars’ poles are areas where the temperature is lower and pressure is higher, thus there could be chances of more oxygen being added to water. The poles are the most likely place where evidence of life can be scouted for.
In the best-case scenario, the puddles could have enough oxygen to support more complex organisms, like sponges. “If there are brines on Mars, then the oxygen would have no choice but to infiltrate them,” the study’s co-author Woody Fischer, a geobiologist at Caltech said in a press release. “The oxygen would make it everywhere,” Smithsonian reported.
On the other had, even when the worst case scenario was considered, there would still be enough oxygen in the water to allow bacterial life to develop.
“We were absolutely flabbergasted,” said lead author Vlada Stamenković of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “I went back to recalculate everything like five different times to make sure it’s a real thing,” according to the Smithsonian report.
What do the findings indicate
The finding opposes the current, accepted view of Mars and its potential for hosting habitable environments. The existence of liquid water on Mars remains uncertain. Even if it is there, researchers doubt that it might be oxygenated, given that Mars’ atmosphere is about 160 times thinner than that of Earth and mostly contains carbon dioxide.
“Oxygen is a key ingredient when determining the habitability of an environment, but it is relatively scarce on Mars,” Woody Fischer said in an official statement.
“Nobody ever thought that the concentrations of dissolved oxygen needed for aerobic respiration could theoretically exist on Mars,” NASA’s Vlada Stamenković said further.
Why is this important
The findings could help future missions to Mars by providing better targets to search for signs of past or present habitable environments, Stamenković said in the official statement.
It is important to keep in mind what Stamenković says. She told the Smithsonian, “This is all hypothetical, but worth exploring.” The study is only a model, and there’s no conclusive proof of the existence of puddles, liquid water, or any life form on Mars as of now.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius.
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