Monday, March 12, 2018

Scientists Find Ancient Seafloor on Mars Which Could Have Sustained Life

When popular culture examines what life might be like on Mars, one consistent theme comes up: big-headed, bug-eyed grey aliens sheltering from a constant red dust storm in the middle of the desert.
Why nobody’s set a Western on Mars yet is anyone’s guess, but in the meantime, it might be worth revisiting our stereotypes surrounding life on Mars, and what an ecosystem on the Red Planet might actually look like. As much fun as it is to think of Mars as basically a chalky red wasteland, this wasn’t always the case – millennia ago, the planet looked very different, with oceans and hot springs that weren’t unlike the watery covering that our planet currently sports.
Scientists examining craters on the surface of Mars that were once expansive seas now think that they might have discovered the most interesting spot yet; a so-called “cradle of life” that may have once been capable of supporting living creatures.
A new paper published in Nature Communications explains how a team of international scientists, examining the Eridania basin on the surface of Mars, have noted that coloration in the bedrock of the crater hints at a past time in the planet’s lifespan that would have been a pretty nice place to live – at least for some Earth creatures.
According to NASA’s Paul Niles:
Opening quote
“This site gives us a compelling story for a deep, long-lived sea and a deep-sea hydrothermal environment. It is evocative of the deep-sea hydrothermal environments on Earth, similar to environments where life might be found on other worlds – life that doesn’t need a nice atmosphere or temperate surface, but just rocks, heat, and water.”
Closing quote
From the sound of it, Mars was never exactly a perfect vacation destination (the temperature fluctuation alone should probably have tipped us off about that). That said, it’s interesting to think of how some particularly hardy micro-organisms could have got on just fine at the bottom of a Martian ocean.
This is particularly significant considering NASA’s recent attempts to study the atmosphere of Mars to make sure that, in sending rovers, we’re not accidentally contaminating Martian environments with our own scummy Earth bacteria. If we end up accidentally killing off alien life, or even drastically affecting their habitat, then we should be considering ourselves a big failure when it comes to the Prime Directive.

On the other hand, it’s nice to think that even a planet as inhospitable as Mars may have once played host to some form of living creature – or at the very least, been capable of supporting such organisms. If this is the case, we might not be all that alone even in this solar system.

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