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.CLARKS Springers slip on loafer shoes womens size 6 tan leather 1 inch heel , MERELL Plaza Women's Leather/Suede Mary Janes Low Walking Shoes sz 10 US/ 41 EUR , Women’s Blue Leather Flats By Fossil Size 7.5 Medium Silver Buckle Shoes Comfort , andy-05 New Fashion Slip On Synthetic Casual Women Flats Comfort Shoes White 9 , MISMATCHED Women's ROCK REPUBLIC LENNY BLUE FLATS LEFT SZ 7.5 RIGHT SZ 8 Shoes , Softspots Women's Bronze/Brown Slip On Woven Loafers Shoes 8 N WORN ONCE, NICE! , Hush Puppies Kid Suede Queenie Hailey--Size 6.5MSkechers BOBS Memory Foam Womens Size 6.5LL Bean Olive Green Suede Leather Womens Loafer Shoes Size 5.5 M NWOBj crew Flats size 9 black clear Rain Flat Shoes with gems made in Italy , Lucky Brand Womens Size 7 Emmie Scrunch Ballet Flats Blue Slip On Skimmer Shoes , US LADIES PUNJABI JUTTI KHUSSA SHOES ETHNIC MOJARI FLAT BALLET BALLERINA SS108 , WOMENS H BY HALSTON GREY LEATHER ELISA SLIP ON SHOES FLATS POINTED TOE SIZE 9 M , Steven by Steve Madden Womens Getty Wraparound Flat Shoes , **Cole Haan Deltona Gore Ballet Flats - Women's Size 5.5 B, Nude/BlackSalvatore Ferragamo Womens Leather Slip on Flats White 8.5 A2 , New Balance Womens 9 D Walking Athletic Sneakers Shoes Strap Up White (18G)Chicago White Sox Reebok Authentic MLB Shoes Size 5.5 Excellent Condition , Merrell Womens Front Zip Running Walking Shoes Sz 7.5 M Black Mesh AthleticEtnies Womens Corby Red Athletic Shoes Size 8 (264558)White Women Lady ALL STARs Chuck Taylor Ox Low Top classic Canvas Sneakers US7 , Women New Balance 315 Lifestyle Mint/White Size 7 WL315GN Cush+ New With Blemish , Women's Ellie Women's Holiday-S-423 Diversified Latest Designs Athletic ShoesBrand New Asics Women's GEL-EXCITE 4 Shark/Coral/Purple Running Shoes T6E8N.9606 , Lacoste Women's L.30 SLIDE Pink/White Synthetic SandalsNIB VANS OLD SKOOL (BLOCKED) TRUE WHITE PEARL PINK SHOES SZ 10 WOMENS / 8.5 MENSSaucony Womens Triumph ISO 3 Everun Cross Training Running Shoes Size 10 , Skechers Women's Go Golf Blade 2 Walking Shoe, Black/White, Size 9.5 , adidas Originals Haven Womens Shoes Size 7.5 Onix CQ2524 , New Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Low Top Sneaker Shoes (UNISEX), W7.5
"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."