July 26, 2017

Mars Surface May Be Too Toxic For Microbial Life

08 July 2017, 12:31 | Candice Butler

Latest lab tests show salt minerals on Mars kill basic life form bacteria implying the'Red Planet is more uninhabitable than previously thought

Latest lab tests show salt minerals on Mars kill basic life form bacteria implying the'Red Planet is more uninhabitable than

In 1976, the Viking 1 and 2 spacecraft landed on Mars and detected something called perchlorates in the soil. This hypothesis was backed up by the observation that low temperatures, which slow down chemical reactions, extended the lifespan of the bacteria in the perchlorates but still resulted in them dying.

When the bacteria were hit with UV rays in the presence of perchlorates, iron oxide and peroxide, the bugs were killed 11 times faster than with perchlorates alone. Lynn Rothschild of NASA Ames Research Center told Gizmodo she and her team recently conducted research that suggests "bacteria could withstand the perchlorates and salts on Mars".

Researchers from that institution imitated the Martian conditions in an Earth laboratory setting, finding that the combination of perchlorates and UV light killed Bacillus subtilis, which is common in soils, on rocks and on spacecraft, the university explained.

In the new study, Jennifer Wadsworth and Charles Cockell showed the compound can also be activated by UV light, without heat, in conditions mimicking those on the martian surface.

The impact of the radiation, combined with certain types of compounds in the soil, resulted in sterilizing the upper layers.

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Despite those dreams now seeming farfetched, Ms Wadsworth said there was still a chance for life on the red planet.

Chris McKay, a planetary scientist at Nasa Ames Research Center in California, said the study was "a big step forward" in understanding the ramifications of finding high levels of perchlorate on Mars. "As far as present life, it doesn't rule it out but probably means we should look for life underground where it's shielded from the harsh radiation environment on the surface". They had a pretty generous prerequisite for the bacteria to be considered viable - anything more than zero cells that survived.

Of course, a planet's surface is not as barren and wet as a petri dish.

Scientists will have to dig a lot deeper to find life beneath the Red Planet's penetrative UV raze, say experts. This value was confirmed by samples taken by the Curiosity Rover.

The findings suggest the surface of Mars is less inhabitable than we previously thought, but on the plus side, it means that bacteria and other biological contaminants from robotic and human exploration missions are unlikely to survive on the red planet. As Kluger reports, some bacteria on Earth use naturally occurring perchlorate as an energy source.

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