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Potential life on Mars lived below surface

Date: 04 December 2020 Tags: Space

Issue

A study has predicted that life on Mars would have been possible to develop below the surface, due to melting of icesheets.

 

Background

The research examined various Mars datasets to see if heating via geothermal or underground heat would have been possible 4.1 billion to 3.7 billion years ago.

 

Details

  • The research showed that the conditions needed for subsurface melting would have been possible on ancient Mars.

  • Even if Mars had a warm and wet climate 4 billion years ago, with the loss of the magnetic field, atmospheric thinning, and subsequent drop in global temperatures over time, liquid water may have been stable only at great depths.

  • Even if greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and water vapour are pumped into the early Martian atmosphere in computer simulations, climate models still struggle to support a long-term warm and wet Mars.

  • The sun is a massive nuclear fusion reactor that generates energy by fusing hydrogen into helium. Over time, the Sun has gradually brightened and warmed the surface of planets in our solar system.

  • About 4 billion years ago, the Sun was much fainter so the climate of early Mars should have been freezing.

  • However, the surface of Mars has many geological indicators, such as ancient riverbeds, and chemical indicators, such as water-related minerals.

  • On rocky planets like Mars, Earth, Venus, and Mercury, heat-producing elements like uranium, thorium, and potassium generate heat via radioactive decay.

  • In such a scenario, liquid water can be generated through melting at the bottom of thick ice sheets, even if the Sun was fainter than now.

  • On Earth, geothermal heat forms subglacial lakes in areas of the West Antarctic ice sheet, Greenland, and the Canadian Arctic.

  • The researchers say that it is likely that similar melting may help explain the presence of liquid water on cold, freezing Mars 4 billion years ago.

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