We Thought Mars Was Toxic. We Had No Idea

08 July, 2017, 00:30 | Author: Lorena Waters
  • Why Life on Mars May Be Impossible

"It is not out of the question that hardier life forms would find a way to survive at or near the Martian surface", she added.

Despite the finding, Professor George said there was still a possibility of finding life on Mars - but they will have to search deeper. Since their discovery there several years ago, scientists have speculated on the influence that perchlorates may have on the habitability of the planet. "But the bad news is that this means we have to dig to quite some depth to reach a biological record of early life that is not completely destroyed by the reactive UV-activated perchlorates".

Perchlorates are found on the red planet in 2008, when the lander "Phoenix" has analysed the chemical composition of Martian soil.

Working with Charles Cockell, an astrobiologist at Edinburgh, Wadsworth looked at what happened to Bacillus subtilis, a common soil bacterium and regular Earthly contaminant found on space probes, when it was mixed with magnesium perchlorate and blasted with ultraviolet rays similar to those witnessed on Mars.

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One way to turn a perchlorate into an oxidant is to expose it to UV light, and since Mars has a much thinner atmosphere than Earth, there's plenty of this kind of radiation on its surface. However, this same substance can also simultaneously be toxic to the same bacteria it feeds, which depends exclusively on the presence of ultraviolet radiation and Mars has that in abundance. In fact, they died within 30 seconds. The researcher also found that two other common Martian soil components, iron oxide and hydrogen peroxide, reacted with irradiated perchlorate to make the soil hostile to bacteria.

There still remains some hope for surface microbes. Jennifer Wadsworth, who studies astrobiology at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, recreated Martian conditions here on Earth and watched how bacteria handled it.

NASA says these microbe-killers or perchlorates were discovered in various locations on Mars.

Researchers remain hopeful that the search for life on Mars and the mission to colonize the red planet could still be pursued. As Kluger reports, the researchers found that the colder temperatures offer some small protection for the bacteria. Scientists may have to rethink and redesign their strategy if proven that the findings of the new study are correct, as this would mean the surface is more uninhabitable than previously thought.

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