Large parts of Mars ‘could sustain life’

Large areas of Mars could be home to primitive alien life, space scientists have concluded. Computer modelling showed that three per cent of the Red Planet could sustain simple bugs, compared to one per cent of Earth, from its core to its upper atmosphere. 

Mars including its thin atmosphere
Mars including its thin atmosphere from a Viking Orbiter in 1976 (NASA)

The research, by astrobiologists in Australia, concluded that most of the habitable parts of the smaller Mars lie underground. The planet is bombarded with radiation from the sun that would destroy life as we know it because, unlike Earth, Mars has no protective magnetic shield.

A team from the Australian National University compared temperature and pressure conditions here with those on Mars to estimate how much of it might be suitable for life. The scientists, who modelled conditions on Mars to examine how much of the red planet was habitable, said that “large regions” could sustain microbes. Team leader Charley Lineweaver said: “The simple answer is yes. There are large regions of Mars that are compatible with terrestrial life.”

Dr Lineweaver said decades of data was used to carry out the computer modelling, reported in NASA’s Astrobiology journal. From estimates of the amount of water ice found at the martian poles, the scientists worked out how much of the planet could have water that Earth-like microbes could live on.

Liquid water cannot exist on the cold surface of Mars because it instantly turns to steam. But below the surface the extra pressure allows it to survive. And heat spreading from the core of the Red Planet would provide enough warmth to allow micro-organisms and bacteria to flourish.

A NASA nuclear-powered spaceprobe, Mars Science Laboratory, or Curiosity, is currently en route to Mars for the next stage in the quest to find if the planet has ever been home to life. It will dig deep into the soil to look for chemicals that could be the remains of long-dead martian life.

In 2009, NASA revealed they had observed plumes of methane on Mars, leading some scientists to suggest that it could be being given off by martian organisms alive underground today.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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