Study: Mars Likely has Enough Oxygen to Support Life

(The AEGIS Alliance) – Salty water just beneath Mars’ surface may contain enough oxygen to be able to support the types of microbial life which has flourished and emerged on Earth billions of years ago, according to a report by researchers on Monday.

This amount of oxygen available may be able to keep alive primitive, multi-cellular animals like the sponge in some locations. This was reported in the journal Nature Geosciences.

“We discovered that brines” — water that has high concentrations of salt — “on Mars can contain enough oxygen for microbes to breathe,” stated lead author Vlada Stamenkovic, a theoretical physicist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory located in California.

“This fully revolutionises our understanding of the potential for life on Mars, today and in the past,” he said to AFP.

Up until now, it was assumed that traces of oxygen amounts located on Mars weren’t sufficient for sustaining even microbial lifeforms.

“We never thought that oxygen could play a role for life on Mars due to its rarity in the atmosphere, about 0.14 percent,” states Stamenkovic.

To compare, oxygen the life-supporting gas makes up around 21 perfect of air we breathe in.

Here on Earth, aerobic meaning oxygen breathing, lifeforms have evolved with one another using photosynthesis, the process of converting CO2 into O2. Oxygen has played a key and important role for complex life to emerge. Most notably is what is called the Great Oxygenation Event that occurred around 2.35  billion years ago.

Although our planet is also harboring microbes, beneath the deep ocean waters at the bottom, thriving in boiling hot-springs. These microbes live in environments that are deprived of oxygen.

That’s why — whenever we thought of life on Mars — we studied the potential for anaerobic life,” Stamenkovic mentioned.

This recent study started with a new discovery by NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover when it found manganese oxides. It is a chemical compound that is only able to be produced if there is a lot of oxygen present.

The Mars orbiters along with the Curiosity Rover also found brine deposits, that had notable variations within the elements they contained.

mars curiosity rover oxygen support life red planet
Image: CC/Flickr/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Water that is high in salt allows it to stay in liquid form. This is a needed condition for oxygen to be able to be dissolved. Plus with being as way lower temperatures, the brine is a prime area for microbes to live.

Temperatures on Mars vary between 195 degrees down to 20 degrees Celsius, which is negative 319 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperatures depend on the region.

Researchers were able to come up with a model which describes how oxygen dissolves into salty water when at temperatures below the freezing point. Another model estimates that the climate on Mars has changed over the past 20 million years, and will change again over the next 10 million years. With these calculations combined, it revealed the regions of Mars that are most likely to have brine-based oxygen, this information may assist in determining where future probes are placed.

“Oxygen concentrations [on Mars] are orders of magnitude” — several hundred times — “greater than needed by aerobic, or oxygen-breathing — microbes,” concludes the research study.

“Our results do not imply that there is life on Mars,” said the cautioning Stamenkovic. “But they show that the Martian habitability is affected by the potential of dissolved oxygen.” 

image photo of red planet mars
Image/CC/Flickr/Paul Stewart

Kyle James Lee – The AEGIS Alliance – This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.




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Kyle James Lee

Kyle James Lee is the Majority Owner of The AEGIS Alliance. He studied in college for Media Arts & Game Development. Skills include Writer/Article Writer, Graphic Design, Web Design, and Video Production.