Back to Volume
Paper: Sulfate Reduction: A Model for Subsurface Martian Life
Volume: 420, Bioastronomy 2007: Molecules, Microbes and Extraterrestrial Life
Page: 213
Authors: Denson, J.; Chevrier, V.; Sears, D.; Ivey, D. M.
Abstract: ESA’s Mars Express and NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers have discovered extensive deposits of sulfate minerals on the surface of Mars. These findings provide some of the most compelling evidence that there were once large deposits of liquid water on the martian surface. We have performed a kinetic study investigating the stability of MgSO4 brine solutions under simulated martian conditions. This included precise control of temperature (° C), pressure (6–7 mbar) and atmospheric composition (100% CO2). Our results indicate that highly concentrated brines (20–25 wt%) dramatically alter the evaporation/sublimation rates when compared to water/water ice, with a rate approximately 10 fold lower than expected. These concentrated brines also promoted the existence of metastable liquids, which suggests a unique niche for martian life. Sulfate reduction is thought to be one of the earliest forms of respiration to arise on the early Earth. This is based on a wide range of evidence, including phylogenetic studies of present day sulfate reducers and isotopic fractionation studies of sulfur bearing minerals. Therefore sulfate-reducing microorganisms are an intriguing group to serve as a model for potential martian life. The ability of sulfate-reducing microorganisms to survive and potentially grow under simulated martian surface and subsurface conditions is currently being investigated. This research will explore the utility of sulfate reduction as a form of respiration for martian microbes, give valuable insight into possible biosignatures produced by such organisms on Mars, and provide an initial glimpse into the energetics of such a system.
Back to Volume