According to a new report in The Guardian, the surface of Mars contains a “toxic cocktail” of chemicals that can take out living organisms.
Experiments with compounds discovered in the Martian soil prove that they form into potent bactericides caused by the ultraviolet light that coats the planet, successfully sterilizing the upper layers of the dusty prospect.
The discovery has powerful implications for the hunt for alien life on Mars and indicates that missions will have to go deep down underground to find if past or present life forms on Mars is true.
The most congenial environment may lie two or three meters beneath the surface where the soil and organisms are protected from intense radiation. Jennifer Wadsworth, a postgraduate astrobiologist at Edinburgh University said, “At those depths, it’s possible Martian life may survive.”
Wadsworth’s research was propelled by the discovery of strong oxidants known as perchlorates in the Martian soil a few years back. Hints of perchlorates first appeared in tests constructed by Nasa’s Viking lander missions 40 years ago, but were confirmed recently by the space agency’s Phoenix lander and Mars rover, Curiosity.
Back in 2015, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter saw signs of perchlorates in what seemed to be wet and briny streaks that seeped down Martian gullies and crater walls.
A handful of scientists felt that perchlorates would be toxic for microbial Martians, but in theory at least, alien bacteria might find a way to use the chemicals as an energy source. If life could flourish in perchlorate-rich brines, then aliens might be flourishing in the damp patches on Mars.
Working with Charles Cockell, an astrobiologist at Edinburgh, Wadsworth took a look at what happened to Bacillus subtilis, a common soil bacterium and regular Earthly contaminant found on space probes, when it was mixed with magnesium perchlorate and blasted with ultraviolet rays similar to those witnessed on Mars. She saw that the bugs were taken out twice as fast when perchlorate was present. Other perchlorates found on Mars had a similar bactericidal effect.
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