Life possible underground on Mars

2011-12-12 11:25

Sydney - Australian scientists who modelled conditions on Mars to examine how much of the red planet was habitable said Monday that "large regions" could sustain terrestrial life.

Charley Lineweaver's team, from the Australian National University, compared models of temperature and pressure conditions on Earth with those on Mars to estimate how much of the distant planet was liveable for Earth-like organisms.

While just 1% of Earth's volume - from core to upper atmosphere - was occupied by life, Linewaver said their world-first modelling showed 3% of Mars was habitable, though most of it was underground.

"What we tried to do, simply, was take almost all of the information we could and put it together and say 'is the big picture consistent with there being life on Mars?'," the astrobiologist said.

"And the simple answer is 'Yes'... There are large regions of Mars that are compatible with terrestrial life."

Low-pressure environment

Where previous studies had taken a "piecemeal" approach by examining particular sites on Mars for signs of life, Lineweaver said his research was a "comprehensive compilation" of the entire planet using decades of data.

Frozen water has been found at the poles on Mars and the ANU study examined how much of the planet could sustain water "that could be habitable by Earth-like standards by Earth-like microbes".

The low-pressure environment of Mars means water cannot exist as a liquid and will vaporise on the surface, but Lineweaver said the conditions are right underground, where the weight of the soil gives the added pressure required.

It would also be warm enough, at certain depths, for bacteria and other micro-organisms to thrive due to heat from the planet's core.

The average surface temperature on Mars is -63°C.

Lineweaver said his study was "the best estimate yet published of how habitable Mars is to terrestrial microbes" and a significant finding given mankind had evolved from microbial life.

"It's not important if you want to figure out what the laws of physics are and you want to talk to some intelligent aliens who could build spaceships," he said.

"If you're interested in the origin of life and how likely life is to get started on other planets, that's what relevant here."

Lineweaver's paper was published on Monday in the scientific journal Astrobiology.

  • Emile - 2011-12-12 12:36

    earth first we will strip mine the other planetes later!!!

  • J-Man - 2011-12-12 12:49

    I hope they find (some form of) life there soon.. Shut all these haters up for good.

  • sh.fish1 - 2011-12-12 12:52

    sure if new habitable planets could be found, imagine new surroundings, stories, religion, borders, laws, u name it

  • Zion - 2011-12-12 15:42

    -63 degrees C is darem a bit too low. Problem would be to keep the beer liquid.

      Trevor Lovell - 2011-12-12 18:16

      @zion: I like where your head's at. Maybe we can invent the opposite of a cooler box?

  • Jerolan - 2011-12-12 16:29

    Please send juju, jub jub, mugabe, selebi, shabir and a few other noble men to test the conditions.

      Zion - 2011-12-13 11:47

      Brilliant Jerolan: Juju would want to nationalise it. Mugabe would want to get rid of the whites asap. Shabir would want a golf course built there. Selebi would want a hospital bed to be installed there. The AWB would want it for an independant "tuisland" The Americans would want a war there and drill for oil. The Japanese would build a nuclear power station there while the Chinese would send their Triad there.

  • Mike - 2011-12-13 11:29

    I would be blown away if they find some fossils of ancient life. The problem is that Mars surface is irradiated, so how far down will they need to dig and can these autonomous rovers do that?

      Victor - 2011-12-13 13:53

      Yes, it does have much higher levels of ionizing radiation - but we keep on looking at how life originated on earth - it could be that life more resistant to radiation evolved on Mars. Would be a fantastic discovery!

      Mike - 2011-12-13 14:38

      Victor if you look at the history of Mars it was far different as it is today as it lost it's atmosphere due to it's small size and water ran on the surface until it's conditions fundamentally changed. So if life started then it may have evolved somewhat before the planet went barren. I suppose there is room still for living extremophiles if they can handle the radiation or are sufficiently underground. Let's face it,life is tenacious.

      Victor - 2011-12-15 09:24

      Daniel Agreed. There is mounting evidence that Mars had liquid water and a thicker atmosphere. IMHO I think if they find anything it will only be evidence for past life - however, can you imagine finding extremophiles that survive on Mars! Next stop, Europa - they should send a mission similar to the Mars rover missions to Europa, something that can penetrate the ice and survey the oceans on Europa.

  • ludlowdj - 2011-12-13 14:19

    All life started in space, all planets so far explored show signs of having had life, so the jump to all planets have the capacity to support some sort of life is the next logical step. I just wish governments would stop the lie and tell us the truth. As for strip mining planets, highly unlikely, the costs of travelling to a planet, setting up the operation, running cost and the cost of trying to ship the ore back to earth would be to inhibitory. The notion that man would move from planet to planet strip mining each and then moving on to destroy the next although a probability would simply earn man the reputation as a virus, which if one considers what we are doing to our host planet isn't to far from the truth, and would justly target our race as one to be destroyed rather than nurtured.

      Mike - 2011-12-13 14:41

      Jupiter, mercury Venus Saturn?. What evidence has been found that supports your statement, I live on science and astronomy and have never read anything that confirms your conspiracy

      Victor - 2011-12-15 09:25

      "All life started in space, all planets so far explored show signs of having had life" Not true. We have only found life on Earth.

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