Salty pools on Mars may support life

Washington: Salty pools of water under the surface of Mars could hold enough oxygen to support the kind of microbial life, according to a study which contradicts existing views on the red planet’s potential habitability. The findings could inform future missions to Mars by providing better targets to rovers searching for signs of past or present habitable environments, researchers said.

A team led by scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in the US has calculated that if liquid water exists on Mars, it could — under specific conditions — contain more oxygen than previously thought possible. According to the model, the levels could even theoretically exceed the threshold needed to support simple aerobic life. The existence of liquid water on Mars is not a given. “Oxygen is a key ingredient when determining the habitability of an environment, but it is relatively scarce on Mars,” said Woody Fischer, a professor at Caltech. It has also been hypothesised that water could exist in salty subsurface pools, because perchlorate salts (compounds of chlorine and oxygen) have been detected at various places on Mars.

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