Mars Soil Is Too Toxic For Life, Study Finds

Posted: Jul 9 2017, 12:38am CDT | by , Updated: Jul 9 2017, 12:46am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Mars Soil is Too Toxic for Life, Study Finds
Credit: NASA

A "toxic cocktail" of chemicals found in Mars surface can destroy bacteria within minutes

The quest for evidence of life on Mars has just suffered a major blow.

Researchers have recently investigated the behavior of chemical compounds that are abundant in Martian soil and found that they are too toxic to support life on Mars surface.

Chemical compounds, called perchlorate, are widespread in Martian surface. It is a kind of salt comprised of chlorine and oxygen and has been detected on Red Planet at multiple locations.

In the ground-based laboratory, perchlorate was tested with bacteria commonly found in the spacecraft and the experiments produced devastating results. When exposed to UV light similar to that of Mars, the chemical turned deadly for bacteria, killing them faster than thought.

“Perchlorate, although stable at room temperature, is a powerful oxidant when activated, for instance at high temperatures…We show that when magnesium perchlorate, at concentrations relevant to the Martian surface, is irradiated under short-wave UVC radiation encountered on the Martian surface it becomes bacteriocidal.” Researchers from University of Edinburg wrote.

Researchers performed the same experiment under a number of Martian stimulated conditions to check the consistency of their results. In a second round of experiment, Perchlorate was mixed with iron oxide and hydrogen peroxide, also found in Martial soil. Combined with other compounds, the mixture killed the living organism 11 times faster than with perchlorates alone. The findings raise questions on the effects of these compounds on the habitability of the planet.

“Although the toxic effects of oxidants on the Martian surface have been suspected for some time, our observations show that the surface of present-day Mars is highly deleterious to cells, caused by a toxic cocktail of oxidants, iron oxides, perchlorates and UV irradiation. Authors wrote in the study.

The presence of perchlorate was confirmed by NASA’s Phoenix Lander in 2008 and the discovery was initially declared “neither good nor bad for life.” More recently the component was identified by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in late 2015. Researchers believe their findings have implications on future robotic and human exploration of Mars.

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