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We figured out how to make Mars habitable

We figured out how to make Mars habitable

A study published in astronomical biology argues that radiolysis may be the fuel for microbial life at the bottom of Mars – and fuel for the future. Well, easy with big words, less complicated than it seems. A process called radiolysis works like this: radioactive elements decompose groundwater molecules and produce materials suitable for underground life. On Earth, this process has been retaining bacteria for millions or billions of years in distant fissures of the Earth, which may now be critical to Mars.

Mars, as you know, is not exactly the place to entertain at this time: dust storms, cosmic rays and solar winds destroy the surface of the red planet. But underground life can take refuge. “The best environment to live on Mars is underground soil,” says Jesse Tarnas, an astronomer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the lead author of the new study. Studying the Martian subsoil will help scientists find out if it can save lives, and the best models we have today are Mars meteorites that have fallen to Earth over the years.

Alexander SubkovGetty Images

Tarnas and his colleagues estimated the size, mineral composition, and numerous radioactive components of the Mars meteorite, and estimated the porosity of Mars using satellite and rover data. Putting these properties into a computer model that simulates radiolysis, we see how efficiently this process produces hydrogen gas and sulfates, chemicals that stimulate the metabolism of underground bacteria. If soil radiation on Mars could have sustained microbial communities for billions of years, researchers say it could still do so today.

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Scientists have already studied the radiation of Mars, but this is the first study using Mars rocks. In light of the study, Tarnas and his colleagues claim that there may be as many as one million microorganisms in a kilogram of rock. (Values ​​similar to the earth’s underground.)

The most habitable meteorite specimens are specimens of a type of rock called Brexia regolith. “They are thought to have come from the southern highlands of Mars, the oldest landmass on Mars,” says Tarnas.

However, the underground life described by this research will require water, and it is not certain that groundwater exists on the planet. Finding out if there is will be the next, most important step.

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