Mars is a cold and parched planet whose surface is devastated by solar radiation.
Nothing known by man can survive these harsh conditions.
However, a little further down, in the Martian regolith, life could make its way.
In a study just published in Nature Geoscience, the authors have concluded that oxygen can be abundant below the surface and that it can reach sufficient concentrations to allow the survival of aerobic microorganisms (which are those that breathe this gas).
In fact, in a narrow strip of Mars, the concentrations could be so high that they would allow simple animals, like sponges, to breathe.
They do not know if this is really the case, but they say that it is possible.
“For the first time we have realized that dissolved oxygen, a molecule that was critical for the evolution of life on Earth, could be available on Mars in concentrations that could be sufficient to sustain aerobic life,” said Vlada Stamenkovic, researcher of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), United States, who led the new study.
“This completely changes our understanding of the potential habitability of modern and ancient Mars. So, you can say that it’s good news, no matter how much work is left ahead. ”
Up until now, it was firmly believed that the trace amounts of oxygen on Mars were insufficient to sustain even microbial life.
But since Mars is a badass planet, and doesn’t care what scientists think about it, it has shown, once again, that we need to completely reevaluate everything we thought we knew about the red planet.
“We never thought that oxygen could play a role for life on Mars due to its rarity in the atmosphere, about 0.14 percent,” Stamenkovic said.
By comparison here on Earth, the life-giving gas makes up 21 percent of the air we breathe.
In summary, the authors have observed that, wherever there are reserves of liquid water – brines – near the surface, there should be enough dissolved oxygen to allow the respiration of microbes.
Moreover, near the poles, enough oxygen could be dissolved to allow the development of simple animals, such as sponges.
“Our results do not imply that there is life on Mars,” Stamenkovic cautioned.
“But they show that the Martian habitability is affected by the potential of dissolved oxygen.”