The dreams of a life-sustaining Mars have mostly died away, with recent study focusing on whether or not Mars could have supported life at one point. However, a new study shows that while the surface of the red planet might be barren, the conditions under the Martian surface could support life in some form. If the work is correct, it suggests that huge areas of the planet might be more life-sustaining than originally thought.
The study, carried out by the Australian National University, looked at Mars as a whole using as much data as the researchers could get their hands on. Charley Lineweaver, who worked on the study, says that while other attempts to determine the life-sustaining properties of the planet focused on particular areas, they looked at the planet as a whole.
They found that when looking at the total volume of the planet, some 3% of Mars could sustain life. While it is difficult to determine the exact extent of Earth’s biosphere, when considering the entirety of the planet’s total volume from core to atmosphere, about 1% of our world is thought to be supporting life. The difference is that most of Mars’ habitable volume would be underground.
The Martian atmosphere has a bad combination of low temperature and low pressure. When put together, it means that liquid water cannot exist in most places on the planet’s surface. However, Lineweaver believes that the additional pressure of soil could mean that water exists below ground. Additionally, warmth from the planet’s core could render some regions of the planet’s subsurface warm enough for bacteria and other micro-organisms.
Don’t get too excited about the findings, however. The study doesn’t mean that there’s a secret Martian society hidden deep below the surface ala the later installments of the Matrix films [editor's note: Or Earth 2, duh]. Instead, it presents the possibility that that foundations of life as we understand it — micro-organisms, for instance — could exist on the red planet. Lineweaver is quoted by Discovery.com as putting it this way:
“If you’re interested in the origin of life and how likely life is to get started on other planets, that’s what relevant here.”
Unfortunately, the depths and regions that Lineweaver’s study suggests are well outside the range of any currently planned Mars missions. Moreover, though the study is based on existing information, we still have much to learn about the structure of Mars. It does, however, give hope that the search for some kind of life in the universe might not take us as far from home.
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- Get your ass to Mars