May 12, 2020 - Science

Brines on Mars may not be habitable

Mars seen by the Hubble Space Telescope

Mars seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo: NASA/ESA/STScI

Seasonal flows of extremely salty water on Mars could be longer-lasting and more frequent than initially thought, though they likely aren't suitable to life as we know it, according to a study in the journal Nature Astronomy this week.

Why it matters: If these brines on the Red Planet are not habitable for microbes as we understand them, then scientists may not need to worry about potentially contaminating these regions during future missions, opening up new avenues of exploration on Mars.

What they found: Seasonal brines on Mars don't get warmer than about -55°F, a much colder temperature than life is known to thrive in.

  • Those liquids can form on about 40% of the Martian surface for as long as six hours, according to the study.

Yes, but: While the study shows it's unlikely that Earth-originating microbes could find safe purchase in Martian brines, that doesn't mean space agencies should send rovers to explore these parts of Mars from very close range.

  • It's still possible that some type of yet-to-be-discovered life on Earth could find a way to live in even this extreme environment on Mars.
  • "My hope is that our work motivates such further research into extremophiles on Earth," Edgard G. Rivera-Valentín, an author of the new study, told Axios via email.

Go deeper: Where to hunt for life on Mars

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