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NASA Experiment Suggests Need to Dig Deep for Evidence of Life on Mars

Still Waters

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Posted (IP: Staff) ·

According to a new NASA laboratory experiment, rovers may have to dig about 6.6 feet (two meters) or more under the Martian surface to find signs of ancient life because ionizing radiation from space degrades small molecules such as amino acids relatively quickly.

Amino acids can be created by life and by non-biological chemistry. However, finding certain amino acids on Mars would be considered a potential sign of ancient Martian life because they are widely used by terrestrial life as a component to build proteins. Proteins are essential to life as they are used to make enzymes which speed up or regulate chemical reactions and to make structures.

“Our results suggest that amino acids are destroyed by cosmic rays in the Martian surface rocks and regolith at much faster rates than previously thought,” said Alexander Pavlov of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Current Mars rover missions drill down to about two inches (around five centimeters). At those depths, it would take only 20 million years to destroy amino acids completely. The addition of perchlorates and water increases the rate of amino acid destruction even further.” 20 million years is a relatively brief amount of time because scientists are looking for evidence of ancient life on the surface which would have been present billions of years ago when Mars was more like Earth.

This result suggests a new search strategy for missions that are limited to sampling at shallow depths. “Missions with shallow drill sampling have to seek recently exposed outcrops – e.g., recent microcraters with ages less than 10 million years or the material ejected from such craters,” said Pavlov, lead author of a paper on this research published June 24 in Astrobiology.



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When we find it, it will be us. I think maybe domes over a subterranean area might be the way to survive the radiation and extreme cold there. Maybe there is some geothermal to tap into.

Edited by Hyperionxvii
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No need to dig bigger holes, just use what's there already to get under the surface. :tu:

Mars Cave-Exploration Mission Entices Scientists.

 Subterranean formations are quite common on Mars, Boston said. Orbiting spacecraft have spotted many snaking lava tubes.

Such caverns may preserve a bounty of information about Martian history and evolution, including its past and current potential to host life.

"Something like the lava tubes could be wonderful traps for material from past climate regimes, particles from previous epochs on Mars," Boston said, noting that liquid water is known to have flowed across the Martian surface long ago.

Lava-tube caves on Earth commonly trap volatile materials such as water, she added.



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