Life Resources

Could Life Survive on Mars?

On Earth, we call them extremophiles. They're life forms that live and thrive in hostile conditions, too difficult for most life on Earth. In some cases, rare bacterial spores lying dormant in bitterly cold, dry, and airless conditions, have survived for millions of years. Once conditions improve, they're "activated" or "brought back to life."

A new discovery found in Alaska, Carnobacterium pleistocenium, is believed to have been in ice dating back some 32,000 years. Finding and studying such extremophiles broadens scientists' understanding of possible life across the cosmos.

Could such extremophiles lie dormant in the Martian arctic? About every 100,000 years, for brief periods, liquid water may exist at the Martian poles, a region currently covered in water-ice. This may have made the soil environment habitable. Is it possible that extremophiles cycle through "active" and "dormant" states, dependent upon the changes in the Martian environment?

Phoenix may discover answers to some of these questions. It will help us evaluate the Martian polar environment, analyzing the soil for life-giving elements such as carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and hydrogen. Phoenix will look for chemical reactions that might indicate that the soil could sustain life. It will also measure the soil's pH and saltiness, traits that help determine habitability. In addition to looking for conditions that support life, Phoenix will also look at the soil for traits that inhibit life and growth.

Digging deep into the Martian soil, Phoenix will look for signs of life and conditions that could support life. And, perhaps evidence that extremophiles could be found there, too.

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