According to researchers at the University of Edinburgh, Mars may be less hospitable to life.

Compelling evidence that water once flowed on Mars have generated hope of finding microbial life there. However, the latest news may change our perspective.

Before human settlement is viable we need to work harder to learn how to grow food on Mars.

Astrobiologists are a group of researchers who search for microbial life elsewhere in the universe. They have known for some time that the surface of Mars contains perchlorates, or salt minerals. The compounds are stable at room temperature but the problem is how they become activated at high heat. On Earth, we use perchlorate to produce rocket fuel and fireworks.

The research suggests that two other parts of the Martian soil also have a poisonous impact. Iron oxides and hydrogen peroxide, work with the perchlorates to further increase the toxicity.

Simon George, professor of organic geochemistry at Macquarie University said: “There’s no ozone layer on Mars so UV rays penetrate down to the surface and they give you a really bad sunburn.”

“…But what happens is this UV radiation interacts with perchlorates and produces side products, probably chlorite and others, which are the things that are really toxic to life.”

The bacterial cells lost viability within minutes in Mars-like conditions, the researchers found. But the results turned out to be more dramatic when Jennifer Wadsworth and Charles Cockell — both of the U.K. Centre for Astrobiology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland —added iron oxides and hydrogen peroxide, two other common components of Martian regolith, to the mix. Over the course of 60 seconds, the combination of irradiated perchlorates, iron oxides and hydrogen peroxide boosted the B. subtilis death rate by a factor of 10.8 compared to cells exposed to UV radiation alone, the researchers found.

Why life on Mars is still possible?

Despite the finding, Professor George said there was still a possibility of finding life on Mars. However, they will have to search deeper.

“We need to be able to be drilling maybe 20 centimetres, maybe metres, down below the Martian regolith [the mixture of dust, soil and broken rocks] and be looking for life in the rocks and the sediments below the surface, out of the way of this UV radiation,” he said.

“We are worried that spacecraft coming to Mars might be bringing Earth-based microbes to Mars and that they might survive there,” he said.

“And in fact the level of toxicity of this perchlorate means that is perhaps less likely.”

“…We are worried that spacecraft coming to Mars might be bringing Earth-based microbes to Mars and that they might survive there,” he said.

“And in fact the level of toxicity of this perchlorate means that is perhaps less likely.”

The future searching is going to require a very strong drill.