Life on MARS: Red Planet may once have been home to microbes that fed on hydrogen


Life on MARS: Red Planet may once have been home to microbes that fed on hydrogen and produced methane – just like the early Earth, scientists claim

  • Modelling study looked at the potential habitability of Mars 3.7 billion years ago
  • Analysed interaction between early environment, ecosystem of microorganisms
  • Early Mars was likely home to microbes that fed on hydrogen and made methane 
  • Same microorganisms considered to be some of earliest forms of life on Earth

Mars may once have been home to microbes that fed on hydrogen and produced methane, just like the early Earth.

That is according to researchers who carried out a modelling study on the potential habitability of the Red Planet more than 3.7 billion years ago.

Previous evidence has suggested that Mars once had potentially favourable conditions for the development of life.

However, the likelihood of such a scenario has rarely been quantitatively established.

A team of international researchers has now analysed the interaction between the early environment on Mars and an ecosystem of microorganisms called methanogenic hydrogenotrophs, which gobble up hydrogen and produce methane.

Early Mars could have been home to microbes that feed on hydrogen and produce methane, just like Earth. A team of researchers analysed the interaction between the early environment on Mars and an ecosystem of microorganisms called methanogenic hydrogenotrophs. They said microbes could have triggered a cooling event (pictured) that saw temperatures plummet

Looking forward, the authors have identified three sites ¿ Hellas Planitia, Isidis Planitia and Jezero Crater ¿ as the best places to look for signs of this early methanogenic life near the surface of Mars

Looking forward, the authors have identified three sites — Hellas Planitia, Isidis Planitia and Jezero Crater — as the best places to look for signs of this early methanogenic life near the surface of Mars

WHAT ARE METHANOGENIC HYDROGENOTROPHS? 

Methanogenic hydrogenotrophs are considered to be some of the earliest forms of life on our planet.

The microorganisms gobble up hydrogen and produce methane.

Now, researchers say they could have called Mars home, too.

Further still, the actions of these microbes would have triggered a feedback event with the climate on Mars, cooling it globally by up to more than 446°F (230°C) and creating less habitable conditions closer to the surface, according to researchers led by the University of Arizona. 

These microorganisms are considered to be some of the earliest forms of life on our planet.

The study’s simulations predict that the Martian crust was a viable place for this ecosystem — provided that the surface was not fully covered with ice — and could have produced biomass similar to that of the early ocean of Earth. 

Researchers led by the University of Arizona said the actions of these microbes would have triggered a feedback event with the climate on Mars, cooling it globally by up to more than 446°F (230°C) and creating less habitable conditions closer to the surface.

This would have forced the microbes to move progressively deeper within the planet’s crust, the scientists said. 

Looking forward, the authors have identified three sites — Hellas Planitia, Isidis Planitia and Jezero Crater — as the best places to look for signs of this early methanogenic life near the surface of Mars.

‘Spatial projections of our predictions point to lowland sites at low-to-medium latitudes as good candidates to uncover traces of this early life at or near the surface,’ the researchers wrote.

NASA’s Perseverance rover is currently scouring the Jezero Crater, which likely once held a lake and the delta that emptied into it, for clues about possible ancient alien life on the Red Planet.

The study's simulations predict that the Martian crust was a viable place for this ecosystem ¿ provided that the surface was not fully covered with ice ¿ and could have produced biomass similar to that of the early ocean of Earth

The study’s simulations predict that the Martian crust was a viable place for this ecosystem — provided that the surface was not fully covered with ice — and could have produced biomass similar to that of the early ocean of Earth 

NASA's Perseverance rover is currently scouring the Jezero Crater, which likely once held a lake and the delta that emptied into it, for clues about possible ancient alien life on Mars

NASA’s Perseverance rover is currently scouring the Jezero Crater, which likely once held a lake and the delta that emptied into it, for clues about possible ancient alien life on Mars 

Last month it discovered organic matter ‘treasure’ that could help determine if extraterrestrials did in fact ever exist on Mars.

The collection of organic matter suggests it had potentially habitable environments 3.5 billion years ago.

These organic molecules contain carbon that are widely considered to be the building blocks of life. 

The US space agency said Perseverance had collected four samples from the ancient river delta since July 7, bringing the total count of scientifically compelling rock samples to 12.

The new study has been published in the journal Nature Astronomy. 

NASA MARS 2020: PERSEVERANCE ROVER AND INGENUITY HELICOPTER ARE SEARCHING FOR LIFE ON THE RED PLANET

NASA’s Mars 2020 mission was launched to search for signs of ancient life on the Red Planet in a bid to help scientists better understand how life evolved on Earth in the earliest years of the evolution of the solar system.

Named Perseverance, the main car-sized rover is exploring an ancient river delta within the Jezero Crater, which was once filled with a 1,600ft deep lake.

It is believed that the region hosted microbial life some 3.5 to 3.9 billion years ago and the rover will examine soil samples to hunt for evidence of the life.

Nasa's Mars 2020 rover (artist's impression) is searching for signs of ancient life on Mars in a bid to help scientists better understand how life evolved on our own planet

Nasa’s Mars 2020 rover (artist’s impression) is searching for signs of ancient life on Mars in a bid to help scientists better understand how life evolved on our own planet

The $2.5 billion (£1.95 billion) Mars 2020 spaceship launched on July 30 with the rover and helicopter inside – and landed successfully on February 18, 2021.

Perseverance landed inside the crater and will slowly collect samples that will eventually be returned to Earth for further analysis.

A second mission will fly to the planet and return the samples, perhaps by the later 2020s in partnership with the European Space Agency.

This concept art shows the Mars 2020 rover landing on the red planet via NASA's 'sky-crane' system

This concept art shows the Mars 2020 rover landing on the red planet via NASA’s ‘sky-crane’ system

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