Dr Dougan, from the University of Leeds’ School of Physics and Astronomy and the Astbury Centre said of the research published in the journal Nature Communications: "The discovery of significant amounts of different perchlorate salts in Martian soil gives new insight into the Martian 'riverbeds.'"
Dr. Dougan explains that the temperatures on Mars are extremely low; the surface temperature may reach a high of about 20° Celsius (68° F) at the equator, but the lows are devastating. The scientist says at the planet's pole, temps can drop down to -155 ° Celsius (-247°F). Not exactly water-friendly -- but, he explains that while water may not be able to exist as a fluid, magnesium perchlorate can. Dougan says that concentrated solutions of the salt could survive the devastatingly cold temperatures with relative ease. He stated, "The magnesium perchlorate is clearly a major contributing factor on the freezing point of this solution and paves the way for understanding how a fluid might exist under the sub-freezing conditions of Mars."
Dr. Dougan contends that this new finding raises substantial questions about the potential for life on Mars. He explained further, "If the structure of Martian water is highly pressurised, perhaps we might expect to find organisms adapted to high pressure life similar to piezophiles on Earth, such as deep sea bacteria and other organisms that thrive at high pressure."
"This highlights the importance of studying life in extreme environments in both terrestrial and non-terrestrial environments so that we can fully understand the natural limits of life," he continued. Recent findings have even shown that life on Earth may have stemmed from molecules brought down during a meteor shower; studying the origins of life is no doubt a difficult pursuit.
The presence of magnesium perchlorate on Mars, however, is especially interesting because the salt can also be found here on Earth, often under Arctic glaciers or beneath volcanoes. Scientists at NASA now believe that Mars was once home to volcanoes. As Fox News reports, Paul Niles and Joseph Michalski authored a study on some recent findings made by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The MRO discovery indicates there's evidence of ancient sea-floor hydrothermal deposits -- which the duo believes may have been made possible via volcanic activity.
Niles, hailing from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, commented, "Volcanic activity combined with standing water provided conditions that were likely similar to conditions that existed on Earth at about the same time -- when early life was evolving here." The pair of researchers believes that Mars' Eridania Sea once held some 50,000 cubic miles of water -- but it's been about 3.7 billion years since the tell-tale mineral deposits were formed by hydrothermal activity.
Niles contends that the environment and deposits on the Eridania seafloor are quite similar to those found in the deep seas of the Earth. He added, "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."
Whether or not there is (or was) life on Mars remains to be seen, but it is hard to ignore the signs that Mars, at the very least, had the potential to be someone or something's home. The search for life on Mars continues on, but will we ever get an answer? And further, are we sure we want to find out?
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