A study carried out at New York University Abu Dhabi has indicated that life could thrive deep under the surface of the Red Planet. The bombardment of Mars by high-energy particles called galactic cosmic radiation could power subsurface life, according to Dr Dimitra Atri of New York University Abu Dhabi.
The research team under Dr Dimitra Atri found out the presence of ice and salt water in the underground of Mars surface. According to them, this suggests that around two meters deep in the sub-surface of Mars, life could thrive. The presence of micro-organisms below earth is another indication for the possibility of life on the sub-surface of Mars.
“A few years ago, there was a discovery in South Africa in a gold mine about 2.8 kilometres deep. There’s a bacterium that lives off radioactivity,” said Dr Atri.
Using water and Sulphur found underground, and powered by naturally occurring radioactivity from uranium minerals, the bacteria produce chemicals they use as food. Dr Atri said micro-organisms beneath Mars’ surface could be doing something similar, living underground because the present-day thin atmosphere of Mars is not conducive to life.
“Life may have originated, and over a period of time the atmosphere eroded, the place became more hostile, the water bodies mostly disappeared,” he said.
It’s literally alien life. There’s a possibility, there’s a likelihood.Dr. Dimitra Atri
“We don’t understand the mechanisms of how life originates. It’s extremely difficult to say whether it can originate there. We don’t know how the chemistry transforms itself into biology. That’s the big unknown of our age.”
Dr Atri, a research scientist in NYUAD’s Centre for Space Science, has published his ideas in the journal Scientific Reports. His paper was released after the launch earlier this month of the UAE’s Mars orbiter, which is scheduled to reach the Red Planet early next year before carrying out observations on the atmosphere.
Dr. Atri’s ideas and proposals will be carried out on the forthcoming mission of the Rosalind Franklin Mars rover (previously called ExoMars). This Mars mission is a combined venture of European Space Agency (ESA) and Russian Roscosmos State Corporation. The mission was initially scheduled to launch in July 2020, but later postponed to 2022.
The Rosalind Franklin will drill down below the surface of Mars, potentially uncovering micro-organisms living underground. “This is super exciting. This is a new idea, it’s never been tested, it can’t be tested on Earth because such conditions can’t be found here,” said Dr Atri.
“It’s literally alien life. There’s a possibility, there’s a likelihood. We’ve seen in very dry deserts, the Atacama in Chile and other places you have organic life.”
The presence of life in Earth’s deep biosphere – an area extending many kilometres below the sea and land surfaces – has led other researchers in recent decades to suggest that there might be life below the surface of Mars.
Dr. Atri’s research was mainly concentrated on the galactic cosmic radiations which could act as a power source for the metabolism to carry out inside the microorganisms.