PARIS - Salty water just below the surface of Mars could hold enough oxygen to support the kind of microbial life that emerged and flourished on Earth billions of years ago, researchers reported Monday (Oct 22).
In some locations, the amount of oxygen available could even keep alive a primitive, multicellular animal such as a sponge, they reported in the journal Nature Geosciences.
"We discovered that brines" - water with high concentrations of salt - "on Mars can contain enough oxygen for microbes to breathe," said lead author Vlada Stamenkovic, a theoretical physicist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
"This fully revolutionises our understanding of the potential for life on Mars, today and in the past," he told AFP.
Up to now, it had been assumed that the trace amounts of oxygen on Mars were insufficient to sustain even microbial life.
"We never thought that oxygen could play a role for life on Mars due to its rarity in the atmosphere, about 0.14 per cent," Stamenkovic said.
By comparison, the life-giving gas makes up 21 per cent of the air we breathe.
On Earth, aerobic - that is, oxygen breathing - life forms evolved together with photosynthesis, which converts CO2 into O2. The gas played a critical role in the emergence of complex life, notable after the so-called Great Oxygenation Event some 2.35 billion years ago.
But our planet also harbours microbes - at the bottom of the ocean, in boiling hot springs - that subsist in environments deprived of oxygen.
"That's why - whenever we thought of life on Mars - we studied the potential for anaerobic life," Stamenkovic.
LIFE ON MARS?
The new study began with the discovery by Nasa's Curiosity Mars rover of manganese oxides, which are chemical compounds that can only be produced with a lot of oxygen.
Curiosity, along with Mars orbiters, also established the presence of brine deposits, with notable variations in the elements they contained.
A high salt content allows for water to remain liquid - a necessary condition for oxygen to be dissolved - at much lower temperatures, making brines a happy place for microbes.
Depending on the region, season and time of day, temperatures on the Red Planet can vary between minus 195 and 20 deg C.
The researchers devised a first model to describe how oxygen dissolves in salty water at temperatures below freezing.
A second model estimated climate changes on Mars over the last 20 million years, and over the next 10 million years.
Taken together, the calculations showed which regions on the Red Planet are most likely to produce brine-based oxygen, data that could help determine the placement of future probes.
"Oxygen concentrations (on Mars) are orders of magnitude" - several hundred times - "greater than needed by aerobic, or oxygen-breathing - microbes," the study concluded.Womens Sas Shoes BOUNCE Tan Size 6N Moc Toe USA Made Slip On Loafers , Walking Cradles Almond Slip-On Women's Shoes Brownr- SHOES WOMENS SZ 7 LOAFERS MULTI COLOR W/WEDGE SLIP ON CUTE COMFY GENTLY USED , style and co Sparkling Flats 9.5Tommy Hilfiger Women Black Leather Chunky Heel Loafer Sz.9M Slip On Shoes BrazilSkechers pelaxed air cooled women shoes size us 9.5 eur 39.5Flossy Style Marbella Casual Flats - Women's Size 5, Blue/WhiteMERRELL Applaud Chill Women's Bracken Leather Slip On Mules Shoes Size 6.5 NEW , Franco Sarto Womens L-Snap Pointed Toe Ankle Wrap Slide Flats Red Size 9.0BRISSA-1-05 WOMEN EMBELLISHED HIGH SUEDED BOOTIES ELEGANT BLACKAETREX EL38WW07 ALANA RED MARY JANE SIZE US 7 SHOES , Trotters Womens Francie Closed Toe Loafers Pewter Size 12.0 , TORY BURCH BROWN SNAKESKIN BALLET FLATS SZ 6BLOCH NAPPA LEATHER BALLERINA PIG FLAT SHOE SIZE 6 EURO SIZE 36 , Not Rated Womens Coza Open Toe Slide Flats, Nude, Size 6.0 cCF8 , HOKA ONE ONE "CONSTANT" RUNNING SHOES WOMEN'S US SIZE 6Grasshoppers Women's Lily Wedge Sneaker Peacoat Navy Size 8.5 IKlTL.B. Evans Darren - Brown - MensNAUTICA Mens Indoor/Outdoor Nylon Quilted Scuffs Slippers Gray, Black S,M, L, XLNew RYKA Sport Women's Sandra Slip-on Casual Athletic Shoes Size 7.5 Mesh UpperWomen's Chaussure d'équitation pointure 40 Beautiful FlatsLL BEAN BAR HARBOR BOOT NYLON MID WOMEN'S ASSORTED SIZES NEW IN BOXKEEN Womens Whisper-W Dark Shadow/Ceramic Water Shoes Size 10.5 (15034) , Kappa Shoes Caserta Footwear 3025WK0 C28 Womens Blue Navy Shiny Sneakers Casual , Brand New Adidas Neo Daily Skool Women's Size 8.5 Free Shipping , Reebok Trail One Rush Toggle Up Black Purple Womens Trainers Shoes M44998 P6 , Puma Womens Size 10 Suede Remaster Blavk Casual Sneakers Shoes , Vans ISO 1.5 Moroccan Geo/Classic White Women's Shoes 5NEW Merrell Dassie Fold Moc Comfort Casual Walking Shoe, Black, Size 5, $100 , Addidas Superstar 7.5 NWOB Khaki-White #S76157 NWOB ,
"Our results do not imply that there is life on Mars," Stamenkovic cautioned. "But they show that the Martian habitability is affected by the potential of dissolved oxygen."