Underground life could have existed on ancient Mars

(ORDO NEWS) — French scientists have reported that ancient Mars may have had an environment capable of harboring microscopic organisms below the surface.

But if these simple life forms existed, they would change the atmosphere so much that they would cause a Martian ice age and destroy themselves.

In a study published in the journal Nature Astronomy, the scientists said they used climate and terrain models to estimate the habitability of the Martian crust about 4 billion years ago, when the Red Planet is thought to have been covered in water.

The researchers hypothesized that the hydrogen-consuming and methane-producing microbes thrived under a small layer of soil that protected them from radiation.

The authors believe that the supposedly humid and warm climate of early Mars would have been threatened by large amounts of hydrogen sucked out of the thin, carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere.

After temperatures dropped to -200°C, any organisms on or near the surface would likely burrow deeper in an attempt to survive.

Kaveh Pehlavan of the SETI Institute believes that future models of the climate of Mars should take into account French research.

Pahlavan led a separate recent study suggesting that Mars originally had warm oceans, a dense atmosphere composed mostly of hydrogen, which served as a heat-trapping greenhouse gas that was eventually transported to high altitudes and lost to space.

The French study looked at the climatic effects of possible microbes when the Martian atmosphere was dominated by carbon dioxide, Pahlavan said, and therefore does not apply to earlier times.

“However, their study clearly shows that if this life had been present on Mars during this earlier period, it would have had a major impact on the prevailing climate,” he added.

French researchers suggest that the most promising places to search for ancient life are the Hellas Plain and Lake Jezero Crater, where NASA’s Perseverance rover is currently collecting samples.

The next work of French scientists will be devoted to studying the possibility of the existence of microbial life deep inside Mars.

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