Salty Martian water could contain enough oxygen for life to exist. Researchers are confident they know exactly where to find it.
Space innovation suitors are spending billions in the race to get humans to the red planet.
A computer model developed by a US team suggests that salty water near the surface of Mars could contain enough dissolved O2. The oxygen could support microbes and maybe even more complex organisms such as sponges.
This conclusion could change our understanding of the red planet’s habitability.
“We live in exciting times,” said lead author Vlada Stamenković, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Especially as there is so much more work still needed to better understand the Martian habitability, I hope this creates excitement in the [scientific] community, in the world, to think of Mars as a potential place for life to exist maybe even today.”
Researchers published the work on Monday in Nature Geoscience.
Stamenkovic and his coauthors also identified which regions of Mars are most likely to contain brines with the greatest amounts of dissolved oxygen. This could definitely help space agencies plan where to send landers on future missions.
Researchers believe these areas lie especially in the poles of the planet. That’s due to lower temperatures observed in the alien environment.
“Our findings may help to explain the formation of highly oxidized phases in Martian rocks observed with Mars rovers, and imply that opportunities for aerobic life may exist on modern Mars,” the study adds.
Oxygen on Earth makes 21 percent of our atmosphere. That’s due to the abundance of plants and other organisms that create oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis.
Oxygen on Mars, on the other hand, makes up just .145 percent of the atmosphere. Mars’ atmosphere is extremely thin—160 times thinner than Earth’s atmosphere.
There are no plants on the red planet to produce oxygen. But radiation from the sun interacting with CO2 in the Martian atmosphere creates a tiny amount of oxygen.
Geochemical evidence from Martian meteorites suggests the red planet once had large amounts of O2. That’s because of its warm atmosphere and liquid oceans which played a role in the weathering of its crust.
So far, this work has been done through computer modeling. But experts still said that the study looks robust.
“The best studies that rely on models for their results conduct a thorough review of the possible variables that can influence the model output,” said Kathleen Mandt, a planetary biologist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. “This study does a good job at exploring a range of possible outcomes.”
Furthermore, Stamenkovic is working to develop a new tool, no bigger than a shoe box, that could be used to find water on Mars and determine its salinity, no digging necessary.
Thumbnail image: Study suggests salty water just beneath the Martian surface may contain enough oxygen to support alien life. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech