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Life on Mars was possible – but microbes made the red planet uninhabitable

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to: Tanya Banner

Mars may have once harbored life – until it caused climate change and made its planet uninhabitable. This shows a new study.

Tucson – When it comes to Mars There are several questions of interest to research: Was or There is life on the red planet? How Mars lost water and atmosphere? How did the red planet become so cold? A study by French and American researchers can now answer two of these questions at the same time — and provide a surprising explanation.

The research team led by astrobiologist Boris Soteri (University of Arizona, Paris University of Sciences and others) hypothesized for the study that Mars was habitable more than 3.7 billion years ago and that microorganisms lived on the planet at that time, which spread from feeding on hydrogen. The production of methane in this process (called methanogenic hydrogen). According to the research, the situation on Earth was very similar: researchers hypothesize that methanogenic hydrogen was among the first organisms on Earth and that their methane production warmed and stabilized Earth’s climate. As a result, more complex life forms appeared.

Study: For some time, life was said to have been flowing on Mars

“We think Mars at that time was a little cooler than Earth, but not quite as cold as it is today, with average temperatures likely well above the freezing point of water,” explains co-author Regis Ferrière in one book. Contact from the University of Arizona. “Whereas Mars is nowadays described as an ice cube covered in dust, we early imagined Mars as a rocky planet with a porous crust, saturated with liquid water that would likely have been lakes, rivers, and perhaps even seas or oceans.”

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Lead author Sutri explains the gate inverse: “We know Mars was warm early on, so we wanted to provide the biological explanation for this early climate.” Instead, the researchers discovered that the opposite of what happened on Earth happened on Mars: In the researchers’ simulation, the Red Planet had been teeming with subterranean life in the form of methane-generating microorganisms for several hundred thousand years.

Climate change on Mars: Microbes may have made the planet uninhabitable

However, more and more methane entered the atmosphere and the interactions of methane with the Martian atmosphere and the salty ice caps of the poles continued to cool the planet. “By removing hydrogen from the atmosphere, the microbes will dramatically cool the planet’s climate,” explains Suteri. In the simulation, Mars was almost completely covered by a layer of ice within half a million years.

Researchers are looking for liquid water on Mars.  (Icon picture)
Researchers are looking for liquid water on Mars. (Iconic image) © IMAGO / Marcos Osorio

So climate change caused by life on Mars may have contributed to making the planet’s surface uninhabitable very early on. “The problem that these microbes would have next was that the Martian atmosphere would have basically gone away, and they were completely depleted, so their energy source would have disappeared, and they had to find an alternative source of energy,” Souteri explains. “Also, the temperature would have dropped dramatically, and they would have had to go deeper into the crust. At the moment, it is very difficult to say how long Mars can remain habitable.”

Mars: Life may have survived in deeper layers

But in some low-lying areas, life may have persisted near the surface of Mars for at least some time, the study says. in the magazine natural astronomy chest had become. Researchers have identified three regions on Mars where there is a high probability of finding traces of early methanogenic life near the surface of Mars:

  • Hellas Planetia
  • Izydis Planetia
  • Jezero Crater

Life on Mars? NASA probe explores region of interest

One of the areas mentioned – Jezero Crater – has been in use since March 2021 NASA-Rover “perseverance” to examine. Mars rover I recently discovered organic matter there The research community was delighted to be able to bring the material back to Earth in the coming years.

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What is happening on Mars, when will you see it next full moon In the sky and what topics are in astronomy just important? What’s Happening About NASA, SpaceX, and space travel? Subscribe to free space newsletter And stay informed.

Lead author Suteri has a rather sad view of his study’s findings: “The fact that a very primitive biosphere could cool the climate on Mars dramatically, making it uninhabitable, suggests that one of the limiting factors in common to life in the universe may be It is life itself inverse In reference to humanity and climate change on Earth. “Perhaps the fate of life in the universe is self-destruction.” (Tab)