Early Mars: Cold and Wet, But Potentially Still Full of Life

By Rachel Cernansky | May 21, 2009 10:49 am

mars.jpgEarly Mars may have been both wet and cold, with average temperatures well below freezing, according to a new study. But researchers also saw signs of the presence of dissolved minerals that would allow for liquid water—the same way salt can melt ice on a road—thus opening up the possibility that the planet sustained life.

Scientists have long been at odds over the history of Mars, debating whether water formed much of its landscape or whether temperatures were simply too cold to have allowed liquid water to flow. But in the new study, published in Nature, researchers used a computer model to show that both could have been possible because fluids containing dissolved minerals would have remained liquid at temperatures well below 273 degrees Kelvin — the freezing point of pure water. “Our results are compatible with Mars lander and orbiter data and with climate modeling, and suggest a cold and wet early Mars” [Reuters], the authors wrote.

Led by NASA scientist Alberto Fairen, the researchers chose compositions based on weathered basalts for the Martian fluids in their model to match the chemical compositions of rock found at Mars landing sites [Reuters]. The results revealed that warm temperatures wouldn’t have been necessary to support salt-loving life forms [Universe Today] because a number of minerals could have lowered the melting point of water in a frozen Martian environment and help explain the early Mars climate paradox, they said. “The stability against freezing of Martian fluids can explain saline water activity on the surface of Mars at mean global temperatures well below 273 Kelvin” [Reuters], said the study.

Related Content:
80beats: Scientist Smackdown: Did Mars Phoenix Find Liquid Water?
80beats: NASA Probe to Find Out: Does Mars Have Burps of Life, or Burps of Rock?
80beats: Mars Rover Spirit Shows Signs of Age, Including Senior Moments

Image: Wikimedia

MORE ABOUT: Mars, solar system
  • http://911movement.org/ CB_Brooklyn

    Check out these bizarre NASA photos…

    Mars Anomalies – Photos and Booklet

  • chris

    I guess it’d be cool to find life on Mars, you know perhaps we could learn some interesting things from it, if it differs significantly from Terrestrial life forms.

    However some part of me thinks that if we were to discover life on Mars then there would be some sort of controversy about the preservation of that life and then we wouldn’t be able to exploit Mars’ resources or terraform it.

    I wonder if we’ve managed to contaminate Mars with any Terrestrial bacteria yet? I’d think it would be pretty far fetched, but it could be possible I suppose.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/ Eliza Strickland

    Augh, not Mars anomalies! Not here!

    For those who don’t know, some people with a bad case of wishful thinking believe they’ve found evidence of built structures and a Martian civilization in the photos beamed back from Mars. Discover’s Bad Astronomer blogger regularly takes these kinds of people down.

  • Brian


    I remember seeing a story, I think it was in Discover too, about contamination of the spacecraft. Turns out they (NASA) try to keep the landers clean but it’s a difficult job.

    There are bugs tougher than any of the decontamination procedures they employ. I got the impression that actual perfect cleanliness was not possible, and attempting it would probably damage the equipment. Seems to me that NASA wasn’t convinced that a months-long space trip would be enough to decontaminate the equipment either.

    The overall message I got was that Mars probably already has some Earth-origin life on it due to the space programs. But then, there’s some thinking that the planets may have traded life long ago via impacts and meteors anyway. They’ve already found meteorites known to be from Mars on Earth.

    Maybe we’re just returning some distant relative to it’s ancestral home!

    Of one thing you can be sure. Once we send a manned mission, any notion of a pure, isolated Mars, uncontaminated by Earthly life, that’s over.


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