BEACON TRANSCRIPT – The possibility of life on Mars has been lying on the minds of humanity for many decades, driving many scientists and astronomers into the exploration of the planet. After discovering that Mars has the elements that once could have sustained life, a new study suggests that live organisms on Mars may be closer than we expect.
Iron oxides cover the surface of rocks on Mars. Astrobiologist Janice Bishop, researcher of SETI Institute (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence), came up with the idea that these oxides might work as a type of sunscreen for microbial organisms.
In 2011, after working in the Mojave desert, she discovered the presence of an iron oxide that coated carbonate rocks. This followed a 2006 study where she found that these oxides used to be an ultraviolet sunscreen that helped in the ancient process of photosynthesis that happened on Earth.
Just below the sunscreen coating lay carbonates, which are thought to indicate the presence of liquid water. Everything was hiding under hematite, a red mineral at the top which is present on Mars.
Bishop also worked with the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer (CRISM) and analyzed spectroscopic images of Mars. The high resolution pictures helped her and her team of scientists find out more about the surface of the planet and also discover how it got to its present state.
The research performed so far on hematite offer information on how life evolved on Earth. However, the scientists have not discovered yet if such a study would provide the information on life forms they are looking for. Still, a study on hematite might reveal how life forms outside of Earth work, for example on exoplanets.
Other scientists from the University of Tubingen looked at how microbes could survive in a harsh atmosphere without ozone. They discovered that certain bacteria might have used iron oxides to create protective layers which would allow them to survive.
Also, a recent report issued by the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville found that certain microbes could survive the harsh environmental conditions on Mars. This suggests one thing. Life on Mars not only could have existed, but it might still be present as we speak.
Scientists continue their search and analysis of the Red Planet’s surface. They suspect that, if life exists, it resides in the many slopes that could host briny water.
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