Mars may not be habitable due to toxic soil

Mars may not be habitable due to toxic soil

These tests yielded even more bad news for microscopic Martians: when the bacteria were hit with UV rays in the presence of perchlorates, iron oxide and peroxide, the bugs were killed 11 times faster than with perchlorates alone. Microbial life that got started in those days could, scientists theorize, still be holding on in pockets today. Since their discovery there several years ago, scientists have speculated on the influence that perchlorates may have on the habitability of the planet. More recent missions have confirmed their presence. They think this happens because the UV light breaks apart the perchlorate molecules into more reactive ions that wreak havoc on living cells. Mars' soil is full of mixtures of chlorine and oxygen called perchlorate.

In order to determine whether the found substance is good or bad for life, postgraduate student Jennifer Wadsworth and Professor Charles Cockell, both of the University of Edinburgh's School of Physics and Astronomy made a decision to recreate Mars conditions and soil to see whether Earth friendly bacteria can survive.

Mars is a lousy place to try to live-what with the paralyzing cold, the blistering radiation and the thin carbon dioxide atmosphere. Other perchlorates found on Mars had a similar bactericidal effect. However, this same substance can also simultaneously be toxic to the same bacteria it feeds, which depends exclusively on the presence of ultraviolet radiation and Mars has that in abundance.

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A new study has revealed that compounds present in the Martian soil can wipe out whole bacterial cultures within minutes. So they exposed test tubes of a common bacteria, Bacillus subtilis, to conditions similar to ones they might encounter on Mars.

The findings also mean that if we're to find any signs of life now on Mars, we'll probably have to dig. If life could thrive in perchlorate-rich brines, then aliens might be thriving in the damp patches on Mars. Speaking about the findings of the study, Jennifer Wadsworth from Edinburgh's School of Physics and Astronomy said, "Our findings have important implications for the possible contamination of Mars with bacteria and other materials from space missions". "However, we show the bacteriocidal effects of UV-irradiated perchlorates provide yet further evidence that the surface of Mars is lethal to vegetative cells and renders much of the surface and near-surface regions uninhabitable".

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