Life may exist below the surface of Mars

December 6th, 2008 - 2:01 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Dec 6 (ANI): Scientists have developed a simulation of Mars, which indicates that some form of life could exist below the surface of the Red Planet.

The thin atmosphere of Mars does little to block out damaging radiation from the sun, and the surface of Mars seems to be sterilized by caustic chemicals like hydrogen peroxide, but scientists still hold out hope that life on Mars could survive protected below the surface.

Now, according to a report in Astrobiology Magazine, an interdisciplinary research team from the Faculty of Natural Sciences of the University of Aarhus, Denmark, have developed a ground-based simulation of Mars which suggests that bacteria could indeed survive beneath the Martian soil.

The team constructed a Mars Environmental Simulation Chamber (MESCH), from which air is removed with a vacuum pump, and replaced with a thin mixture of gases equivalent to those in the Martian atmosphere.

The chamber has a double wall cooled with liquid nitrogen to simulate the cold temperatures experienced in the Martian night.

Samples of soil in glass cylinders are placed in the chambers steel sample tubes through a small air-lock, then rotated on a carousel; exposing one sample at a time to ultraviolet-rich light from a xenon-mercury arc lamp.

Cycling samples through the light beam produces a temperature rise and fall that mimics the diurnal temperature variation on Mars.

The atmosphere in the chamber is sampled and subjected to molecular gas analysis to determine how the soil (and any bacteria it may contain) interacts with the atmosphere.

So far, the University of Aarhus team has only published results with samples of sand, which demonstrated that the system produces temperature variations comparable to those on the Martian surface.

However, Finster said that additional tests have since been conducted on samples containing freeze-dried bacteria from Arctic permafrost.

While exposure to 80 days in the simulated Martian environment essentially sterilized the topmost two centimeters of the simulated sample core, bacteria were relatively unaffected in the rest of the 30 centimeter sample tubes.

This result suggests that some form of life could exist below the Martian surface. (ANI)

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