For humans to live on Mars, there needs to be a reliable source of oxygen. Although plants probably won't survive on the surface of Mars, another organism could work as an alternative.
What Did Scientists Discover About Bacteria On Earth?
Photosynthesis is the process used by plants and certain organisms, which involves converting light and creating energy. This allows plants to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen.
Scientists just discovered a type of cyanobacteria called Chroococcidiopsis with a unique photosynthesis process. Unlike other organisms that require high-energy wavelengths, this one absorbs light at the far-red end of the electromagnetic spectrum. This is a more efficient process because less light is used and it still creates oxygen.
The findings were published in the journal Science on June 15.
"Chlorophyll adapted to absorb visible light is very important in photosynthesis for most plants, but our research identifies the so-called 'red' chlorophylls as critical components in photosynthesis in low-light conditions," said study co-author Jennifer Morton of the ANU Research School of Chemistry.
This bacteria has existed for millions of years. It has thrived in low-light areas such as Antarctica, the Mojave Desert, and outside the International Space Station.
How Will Bacteria Help With Exploration On Mars?
Since this bacteria can survive in areas with low sunlight and still produce abundant oxygen, they can be used to create breathable air for humans exploring Mars. The red planet currently lacks an oxygenic atmosphere, and plants won't likely be able to survive there. Mars has plenty of carbon dioxide and low light levels, which is perfect for this bacteria.
"This might sound like science fiction, but space agencies and private companies around the world are actively trying to turn this aspiration into reality in the not-too-distant future," said Professor Krausz, a co-author of the study.
Mars is nearly 34 million miles farther from the sun than the Earth. This bacteria has proven that it doesn't need a lot of sunlight to survive. In addition, the radiation on Mars would require organisms that can survive under a rock, which it can do.
The process of searching for red chlorophylls, such as the pigments found in this bacteria, could also provide clues about where to find alien life on Mars. After all, extraterrestrial life on Mars would require a similar photosynthesis process in order to survive.
"Searching for the signature fluorescence from these pigments could help identify extraterrestrial life," Morton said.