Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Martian Underground Could Contain Clues to Life's Origins

22.01.2013
Minerals found in the subsurface of Mars, a zone of more than three miles below ground, make for the strongest evidence yet that the red planet may have supported life, according to research “Groundwater activity on Mars and implications for a deep biosphere,” published in Nature Geoscience on January 20, 2013.

Up to half of all life on Earth consists of simple microorganisms hidden in rocks beneath the surface and for some time, scientists have suggested that the same may be true for Mars. Now this theory has been supported by new research, which suggests that the ingredients for life have been present in the Martian subsurface for much of the planet’s history.

When meteorites strike the surface of Mars, they act like natural probes, bringing up rocks from far beneath the surface. Recent research has shown that many of the rocks brought up from the Martian subsurface contain clays and minerals whose chemical make-up has been altered by water, an essential element to support life. Some deep craters on Mars also acted as basins where groundwater likely emerged to produce lakes.

McLaughlin Crater, described in this study, is one such basin that contains clay and carbonate minerals formed in an ancient lake on Mars. The fluids that formed these minerals could carry clues to as to whether the subsurface contained life.

“We don’t know how life on Earth formed but it is conceivable that it originated underground, protected from harsh surface conditions that existed on early Earth. Due to plate tectonics, however, the early geological record of Earth is poorly preserved so we may never know what processes led to life’s origin and early evolution,” said Dr Joseph Michalski, lead author and planetary geologist at the Natural History Museum in London. “Exploring these rocks on Mars, where the ancient geologic record is better preserved than on Earth, would be like finding a stack of pages that have been ripped out of Earth’s geological history book. Whether the Martian geologic record contains life or not, analysis of these types of rocks would certainly teach us a tremendous amount about early chemical processes in the solar system.”

Co-author Deanne Rogers, Assistant Professor in the Department of Geosciences at Stony Brook University used data from the Thermal Emission Spectrometer aboard NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor and the Thermal Emission Imaging System aboard the Mars Odyssey orbiter to detect and identify minerals that proved to be consistent with a sustained aqueous environment on the floor of the McLaughlin Crater.

“Our understanding of Mars is changing very rapidly with all of the new mission data,” said Professor Rogers. “There have been several recent observations and models that have pointed to the possibility of a vast store of groundwater in the Martian past, and perhaps present. So you might expect that deep basins such as McLaughlin, which intersect the upwelling groundwater table, would contain evidence of this water. And this study found that evidence.”

Current exploration of Mars focuses on investigating surface processes because sedimentary rocks are most likely to provide the best chance evidence for habitability. Evidence suggests, however, that the Martian surface environment has been quite inhospitable to life for billions of years. In future missions, scientists could choose to target rocks related to the surface or subsurface, or perhaps do both by targeting areas where sedimentary rocks formed from subsurface fluids.

Michalski concludes: ‘In this paper, we present a strong case for exploring the subsurface, as well as the surface. But I don’t personally think we should try to drill into the subsurface to look for ancient life. Instead, we can study rocks that are naturally brought to the surface by meteor impact and search in deep basins where fluids have come to the surface.’

Co-author Professor John Parnell, geochemist at the University of Aberdeen, commented, “This research has demonstrated how studies of Earth and Mars depend on each other. It is what we have observed of microbes living below the continents and oceans of Earth. They allow us to speculate on habitats for past life on Mars, which in turn show us how life on the early Earth could have survived. We know from Earth's history that planets face traumatic conditions such as meteorite bombardment and ice ages, when the survival of life may depend on being well below ground. So it makes sense to search for evidence of life from that subsurface environment, in the geological records of both Earth and Mars. But it's one thing to do that on Earth – we need to be clever in finding a way to do it on Mars.”

Additional co-authors of the study include: Javier Caudros, Researcher, Clay Mineralogy, Earth Sciences Department, Natural History Museum, London; Paul B. Niles, Planetary Scientist, NASA Johnson Space Center; and Shawn P. Wright, Postdoctoral Fellow in Geology, Auburn University.

Deanne Rogers | Newswise
Further information:
http://www.stonybrook.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Devils Hole: Ancient Traces of Climate History
24.05.2017 | Universität Innsbruck

nachricht Supercomputing helps researchers understand Earth's interior
23.05.2017 | University of Illinois College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A quantum walk of photons

Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.

The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....

Im Focus: Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.

We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...

Im Focus: Wafer-thin Magnetic Materials Developed for Future Quantum Technologies

Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...

Im Focus: World's thinnest hologram paves path to new 3-D world

Nano-hologram paves way for integration of 3-D holography into everyday electronics

An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...

Im Focus: Using graphene to create quantum bits

In the race to produce a quantum computer, a number of projects are seeking a way to create quantum bits -- or qubits -- that are stable, meaning they are not much affected by changes in their environment. This normally needs highly nonlinear non-dissipative elements capable of functioning at very low temperatures.

In pursuit of this goal, researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Photonics and Quantum Measurements LPQM (STI/SB), have investigated a nonlinear graphene-based...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

AWK Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium 2017: Internet of Production for Agile Enterprises

23.05.2017 | Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

Innovation 4.0: Shaping a humane fourth industrial revolution

17.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A CLOUD of possibilities: Finding new therapies by combining drugs

24.05.2017 | Life Sciences

Carcinogenic soot particles from GDI engines

24.05.2017 | Life Sciences

A quantum walk of photons

24.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>