Is anything tough enough to survive on Mars?

Researchers at the University of Arkansas recently took a step toward answering a question for the ages: Is there life on Mars? Answer: they can’t rule it out.

Two recent publications suggest that life, in the form of ancient, simple organisms called methanogens, could survive the harsh conditions found near the surface of Mars, and deep in its soils.

Using methanogens to test for survivability is particularly relevant because scientists have detected their byproduct, methane, in the Martian atmosphere.

On Earth, methane is strongly associated with organic matter, though there are non-organic sources of the gas, including volcanic eruptions.

Scientists aren’t yet sure what the presence of Martian methane means. But one possibility is that tenacious life flourishes on Mars despite the rocky soil, thin atmosphere and scarcity of liquid water.

“We consider methanogens ideal candidates for possible life on Mars because they are anaerobic, and non-photosynthetic, meaning that they could exist in the subsurface,” said Rebecca Mickol, a Ph.D. candidate at the Arkansas Center for Space and Planetary Science.

“Just a few millimeters of Martian regolith is enough to protect the organisms from the dangerous UV and cosmic radiation that hits the surface.

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