Mars Far More Likely To Have Contained Life Than Previously Thought

The notion that there had been life on Mars once has sparked our collective imagination for ages. When NASA discovered evidence of liquid water on Mars back in September 2015, it was nothing short of a big deal.

Of course, this doesn’t in any way confirm for a fact that there had been life on Mars once. NASA’s findings, however, have allowed our scientists to take the necessary steps in finding out whether there had been life in the history of the planet’s surface.

And now there’s new research suggesting that Mars might have been far more likely to have supported life than we previously thought, as previously reported by the Independent.

Scientists who did the study discovered that the red planet probably had more moisture than previously thought. In the study, the researchers made a simulation of Martian meteorites to better understand the planet’s ancient environment, particularly how much water it had contained.

Before the study was made, scientists used a specific mineral found in Martian meteorites to study Mars’ ancient environment, which gave them the conclusion that the planet’s surface was mostly dry. The new study, however, suggests that the mineral might have contained hydrogen, which could only mean that Mars was far wetter than previously thought.

With this discovery comes the increase in probability that Mars had been inhabited once. After all, water is one of the primary building blocks and requirements of life. If there’d been an abundance of water on Mars in its ancient environment, then it follows that it had the conditions necessary to bring forth and sustain life.

In this vein, the new study also confirmed that phosphorous is another essential element for creating and sustaining life on Earth, and subsequently, Mars.

In the study, which was published today in the journal Nature Communications, researchers discovered that a type of mineral which had been previously considered proof of an ancient dry environment on Mars may have contained hydrogen.

To arrive at their conclusions, the team of researchers created a synthetic version of the hydrogen-containing mineral called whitlockite.

The team applied shock-compression experiments on whitlockite samples to simulate the conditions of meteorites being expelled from Mars.

Using x-ray experiments at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS) and at Argonne National Laboratory’s Advanced Photon Source (APS), the researchers were able to study the microscopic composition of the whitlockite samples post-shock compression, the Daily Mail reports. The x-ray experiments proved that the mineral can become dehydrated if shocks are applied on it, forming merrillite, which can be found in Martian meteorites thrown to Earth. The formation of such mineral cannot occur naturally on Earth.

“This is important for deducing how much water could have been on Mars, and whether the water was from Mars itself rather than comets or meteorites,” said Martin Kunz, a staff scientist who studied the mineral samples.

“If even a part of merrillite had been whitlockite before, it changes the water budget of Mars dramatically,” said Oliver Tschauner, a professor who co-led the study.

“The overarching question here is about water on Mars and its early history on Mars: Had there ever been an environment that enabled a generation of life on Mars?” Dr. Tschauner added.

The pressures and temperatures applied during the shock experiments are comparable to those usually generated by a meteorite impact, but they lasted for only about 100 billionths of a second.

The fact that the experiment was able to yield merrillite even in these artificial conditions is indicative of the amount that could have been produced by an actual meteorite impact.

Whitlockite, once dissolved in water, naturally produces phosphorous– which is essential in bringing about life on Earth. The experiments conducted in the new study especially point to the possibility that phosphorous, aside from water, had been abundance in Mars once. Which, as established, brings up the probability that there had been life once on our closest planetary neighbor.

[Featured Image by NASA/Getty Images]

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