I am very excited to learn about this study, as it directly pertains to new research I am working on with regards to my interplanetary search for lost civilizations. The new research program I am currently developing, known as The Final Frontier, will attempt to study ancient exoarchaeological sites to find evidence of ancient civilization. If you are interested in learning more about The Final Frontier, please sign up to receive updates.
With that said, this new study shows out of Brown university shows evidence that ancient Mars may have had enough chemical energy for microbes to thrive underground and likely had a global subsurface habitable zone several kilometers in thickness. According to researchers, the subsurface of ancient Mars would have had enough hydrogen production via radiolysis to power a global subsurface biosphere, making it possible for habitable zones that would have been similar to those on Earth.
While there has been evidence of past water activity on Mars, scientists have not been clear on how long water may have flowed on Mars. So, to determine how long water may have flowed on Mars, researchers used a gamma ray spectrometer from NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft to map large quantities of the radioactive elements thorium and potassium in the Martian crust. This find led them to believe that uranium was also there. Thus, the decay of those three elements provides the radiation that drives the radiolytic breakdown of water. Since these elements decay at constant rates, the researchers could use the modern abundances to calculate how long water flowed, sort of like radio carbon dating. The evidence suggested that there would have been plenty of groundwater in these habitable zones which would have persisted for hundreds of millions of years.
While the researchers are careful to point out that their findings do not necessarily mean that life existed on ancient Mars, but rather that if life did indeed get started, then the composition of the Martian subsurface could have supported life for hundreds of millions of years. The work also has implications for future Mars exploration, suggesting that areas where the ancient subsurface is exposed might be good places to look for evidence of past life, which is precisely why they are researching this.
According to Jack Mustard, a professor in Brown’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences and coauthor of the study, the mission of NASA’s Mars 2020 rover is to look for the signs of past life. The top two sites NASA is considering: Northeast Syrtis Major and Midway.
What do you think they'll find? Perhaps more importantly, do you think they will tell us the whole story?
Brown University. (2018, September 24). Ancient Mars had right conditions for underground life, new research suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 24, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/09/180924102040.htm