Toxic Perchlorate on Mars Could Make Life More Interesting

Credit: Joseph Heili, Tanner Hoog, and Aaron Engelhart

The search for life in the Universe has fascinated humans for centuries. Mars has of course been high on the list of potential habitats for alien existence but since the numerous spacecraft images that have come back showing a barren landscape, it seems Mars may not be so habitable after all. That is, until recently. The Martian regolith, the top layer of dust upon the surface has been found to be full of perchlorate salts.  These chemicals are poisonous to most life on Earth but a new study suggests that some extremophile protein enzymes and RNA may just be able to survive!

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Search for Life on Mars Could Level-Up with MARSE Mission Concept

A breakdown of the Mars Astrobiology, Resource, and Science Explorers (MARSE) mission profile and its Simplified High Impact Energy Landing Device (SHIELD) system, which could revolutionize how we search for life on Mars by using four rovers at four different landing sites. (Credit: Longo (2024))

A recent study presented at the 55th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) discusses the Mars Astrobiology, Resource, and Science Explorers (MARSE) mission concept and its Simplified High Impact Energy Landing Device (SHIELD), which offers a broader and cheaper method regarding the search for—past or present—life on the Red Planet, specifically by using four rovers at four different landing sites across Mars’ surface instead of just one-for-one. This concept comes as NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance rovers continue to tirelessly explore the surface of Mars at Gale Crater and Jezero Crater, respectively.

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Ancient Cracked Mud Found on Mars

A panorama image taken by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows a rock target nicknamed “Pontours” where researchers identified preserved, ancient mud cracks hypothesized to have shaped throughout lengthy cycles of wet and dry environments over many years. These cycles are hypothesized to support conditions where life could form. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/IRAP)

A recent study published in Nature examines how mud cracks observed on Mars by NASA’s Curiosity rover could provide insight into how life on the Red Planet could have formed in its ancient past. On Earth, mud cracks have traditionally been linked to cycles of wet and dry environments that assisted in developing the complex processes responsible for microbial life to take hold. This study was conducted by an international team of researchers and holds the potential to help scientists better understand the geological and chemical processes that might have existed in Mars’ ancient past, up to billions of years ago.

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Perseverance Has Collected Samples from One of the Best Places to Search for Ancient Life on Mars

NASA’s Perseverance rover puts its robotic arm to work around a rocky outcrop called “Skinner Ridge” in Mars’ Jezero Crater. Perseverance gathered an important sample of sedimentary rock here. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

Scientists with NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover said today that the rover has collected several “tantalizing” organic rock samples from an ancient river delta on the Red Planet. These samples have now been stowed for a planned future mission that hopes to retrieve the specimens and bring them back to Earth for the first-ever sample return from Mars.

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