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Space news: Martian lake breakthrough could lead to life on Mars mission, scientist says | Science | News

A report, published online this week, backs up what scientists had already said in 2018 – that Mars’ south pole hides a huge lake 600 kilometres across around 1.5 kilometres under its surface. Now, Roberto Orosei, the lead researcher behind the most recent discovery, has revealed to that scientists are increasingly of the opinion this mysterious environment could house life.

In addition, further discoveries could eventually warrant a mission to the Red Planet specifically to scour beneath the surface and find out.

Mr Orosei said: “It would be the reward of a lifetime to see a mission going to Mars to drill into the ice and bring back a sample of subgacial water for analysis, but this is very unlikely to happen at the moment.

“The technological challenges are enormous, and we need to know much more before risking what would certainly be a very costly mission there.

Satellite orbiting Mars

The team studied radio waves that had been bounced off of Mars’ surface (Image: Sciepro / Science Photo Library / Getty)

“However, there is a growing consensus in the scientific community that the Martian underground could be a habitat for life, so eventually this could lead to an international support for such a mission.

“In the meantime, we need to continue investigating and collecting evidence of what lies beneath the Martian polar caps.”

At the moment, scientists do not know if life exists anywhere else in the universe except on Earth, let alone one planet away.

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Man stands next to Mars Exploration Rover

Scientists said more discoveries could lead to a mission to Mars specifically to hunt for sub-surface life in future (Image: Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty)

However, if life did exist on Mars, it would likely be very simple as the environment there is probably inhospitable.

Mr Orosei added: “This is very hypothetical, of course, but we would expect that any life in this kind of environment is a very simple one; the harsher the environment, the simpler the organisms that can survive in it.

“On Earth there are microorganisms living in very salty water, and others that populate very cold environments like this one, but there are no multicellular organisms capable of living in those same environments.”

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Scientists said the potential liquid water is stored around 1.5km below the planet’s surface (Image: Mark Garlick / Science Photo Library / Getty)

Besides the extreme cold – scientists Michael Sori and Ali Bramson from Purdue University have calculated the ice to be around -70 degrees celcius – the water’s salt content would need to be very high in order to stop the liquid freezing solid.

Dr Graziella Caprarelli, a geologist also involved in the recent report, told this could present a barrier to the development of life beneath the Martian surface, even if water did exist there.

Dr Caprarelli said: “The saline solutions we think fill the subglacial Martian lakes contain perchlorates, which are known to be extremely toxic to complex organisms such as ourselves.”


Scientists said life on Mars would likely be very simple, like micro-organisms, if it did exist (Image: Kateryna Kon / Science Photo Library / Getty)

Mars facts

Mars facts (Image: EXPRESS)

However, the researcher added there is evidence some micro-organisms can adapt to such toxic environments, meaning scientists have a reason to further investigate the sub-surface conditions on Mars.

She said: “While this is not our field of expertise, we hope that our work might stimulate even more studies into the potential habitability of perchlorate brines, and look forward to those results.”

Mars Curiosity photo of surface

The actual surface of Mars, taken by NASA’s Curiosity rover, pictured, in 2018. (Image: NASA / JPL – Caltech / MSSS / Anadolu Agency / Getty)

The report published this week is a result of data collected between 2010 and 2019, which involved bouncing radar signals off of Mars’ surface from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express satellite.

Scientists used this method to find what could be a sub-surface lake back in 2018. Mr Orosei and the team recently found similar evidence.

The average surface temperature on Mars is around -62 degrees celcius, according to NASA.

NASA Perseverence rover

A model of NASA’s Perseverence rover, which launched towards Mars in July this year (Image: Gregg Newton / AFP / Getty)

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