All the ingredients that support life was present just below the surface of Mars for much of the red planet’s history, a new study has claimed.
However, instead of hosting little green men, our celestial neighbour was likely inhabited by simple microorganisms.
The study led by the Natural History Museum, with the University of Aberdeen, found that all the ingredients for life were present just below the planet’s surface for much of its history, the Daily Mail reported.
When meteorites strike the surface of Mars, they act like natural probes, bringing up rocks from far beneath the crust.
Looking at data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and ESA’s Mars Express spacecrafts, they analysed rocks and found they contain clays and minerals whose chemical make-up has been altered by water.
With up to half of life on Earth consisting of simple microorganisms that lives in below the surface, scientists have suggested that the same may have been true for Mars.
“All the ingredients were there for life, but only small single-cell organisms could have survived in those conditions,” Dr. Joseph Michalski, lead author and planetary geologist at the Natural History Museum said.
“But I would now be more surprised if there was never any life on Mars, than I would be if we did one day discover that simple life lived in that environment. And if life existed then, there is a chance it could still exist now,” Michalski said.
Some deep craters on Mars also acted as basins where groundwater likely emerged to produce lakes, which contain clay and carbonate minerals.
The fluids that formed these minerals could one day tell us more as to whether there was life beneath the surface, and also carry clues to how life developed on Earth.
“We don’t know how life on Earth formed but it is conceivable that it originated underground, protected from harsh surface conditions that existed on early Earth,” Michalski said.
“Due to plate tectonics, however, the early geological record of Earth is poorly preserved so we may never know what processes led to life’s origin and early evolution,” Michalski said.
“Exploring these rocks on Mars, where the ancient geologic record is better preserved than on Earth, would be like finding a stack of pages that have been ripped out of Earth’s geological history book,” Michalski said.
“Whether the Martian geologic record contains life or not, analysis of these types of rocks would certainly teach us a tremendous amount about early chemical processes in the solar system,” Michalski added.
The study was published in the journal Nature Geoscience.