This is a study that is revolutionizing the search for life on Mars. While scientists believe for years that breathing “aerobic” or oxygen, is impossible on Mars, the researchers from Caltech and the JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) of NASA to prove the opposite.
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In their study, published in Nature Geosciences, they show through calculations and models that oxygen can be developed on Mars, but in very salty water, which is located under the surface of the planet. If such an environment was discovered on Mars, it could be home to microbes, “or even simple animals like sponges”, said on Monday the researchers.
At the outset, research on salt water
last July, the Mars Express mission has discovered on the red planet which appears to be a large reservoir of liquid water beneath a layer of ice. However, in order to remain liquid, the water must be very salty : this is what scientists call a brine. The researchers from Caltech and JPL have therefore started to look for the opportunities that are offered this expanse of salt water.
They have to do this multi-step process. First, they calculated how much oxygen could dissolve in the salt water under the conditions of pressure, temperature and chemistry of these brines on mars. They then used a climate model to predict the pressure and temperature in different regions of Mars, in order to map the solubility of oxygen in salt water in different parts of the planet. Finally, the researchers studied the climate change on Mars during the past 20 million years.
A revolution in our understanding of life on Mars
With their results, now they can predict where to find “the best places to find the oxygen dissolved on the planet today”, but also how it has evolved with the times, says Vlada Stamenkovic, a researcher at the laboratory NASA JPL. “It revolutionizes completely our understanding of the possibility of life, past or present, on Mars,” he continued. In fact, the scientists sought rather until today, the presence of a life which can grow without oxygen, as this element is extremely rare in the martian atmosphere, since it is only 1,45% of its composition (compared to about 20% on Earth).
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However, the researchers state that their “results do not imply that there is a life on Mars”. They simply prove that the presence of oxygen is possible on the planet, provided that the scope of water discovery is actually in line with what they were supposed to. And if that was the case, then “life on Mars – if she ever existed or still exists – had enough oxygen to breathe,” says Vlada Stamenkovic.
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The hypothesis of the researchers, therefore, must still be confirmed by the exploration of Mars. In the first place, it would be necessary to send on March of instruments to find this brine on mars and the water just under the surface, indicates Vlada Stamenkovic. According to him, the JPL is in the process of developing this type of necessary equipment.