Ancient Mars may have an environment capable of breeding underground with microscopic organisms, French reported on Monday. If they were, these simple forms would have changed the atmosphere so profoundly that the Martian Ice Age would have triggered and erupted, the researchers concluded.
The inhospitable ways of Inventa provide the cosmos. Life – even simple life like microbes – “may actually cause its own destruction,” said study lead author Boris Sauterey, now a post-doctoral researcher at the Sorbonne University.
I think the results are “a bit sad, but also very exciting,” he said in an email. “They challenge us to rethink the way the biosphere and its planet interact.”
In research in the journal Nature Astronomy, Sauterey and his team said they used climate and terrain models to estimate the habitability of the Martian crust 4bn years ago when the planet was thought to be red water and much more hospitable than today.
It is suspected that hydrogen-gobbling, methane-producing microbes thrived just below the surface of the back then, with several inches (a few tens of centimeters) of dirt more than enough to shield them from incoming hard radiation. According to Sauterey, he could examine any ice-free Mars with these organisms, as on the first Earth.
On Tuesday morning, a particularly humid, warm climate, however, would have been endangered by so much hydrogen rising from the thin, carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere, Sauterey said. With temperatures as low as -400F (-200C), any organisms at or near the surface would probably have gone deeper in an attempt to survive.
In contrast, microbes on Earth may help maintain temperate, nitrogen-dominated atmospheres, the researchers said.
The SETI Institute’s Kaveh Pahlevan said Tuesday that future climate patterns need to be considered in French research.
Separately, Pahlevan led a recent study suggesting that Mars has been wet with warm oceans for millions of years. The air would then have been dense and mostly hydrogen, serving as a gas-conservator that was eventually transported to higher altitudes and lost in space, the team concluded.
A French study investigated possible climate effects for microbes when the Martian atmosphere was dominated by carbon dioxide and therefore did not match earlier times, Pahlevan said.
“What is available to their study is that if life had been present on Mars at this earlier time,” he added, “they would have had a greater power prevailing in the sky.”
The best places to look for traces of this past life? French researchers suggest the unexplored Hellas Planitia, or plain, and Jezero crater on the north-western edge of the Isis Planitia, where NASA’s persistent pirates are collecting rocks to return to Earth in a decade.
Next on Sauterey’s list: exploring the possibility that deep microbial life could still exist on Mars.
“Could Mars be inhabited today by microorganisms descending from this early biosphere?” he said. “If, where?”
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