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Martian Brine May Have Enough Oxygen To Support Microbes

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A new study claims that, if salty water does exist near the surface of Mars, it could have enough dissolved oxygen to support extraterrestrial life.

A team of scientists from the California Institute of Technology and the Jet Propulsion Lab proposed the possibility that there might be more oxygen in Mars than initially thought. The only problem is, it does not exist on the surface but underground where scientists believe lakes of salty liquid water can be found.

Based on their calculations, the levels of dissolved oxygen contained in these underground reservoirs might allow simple aerobic life to thrive in the red planet. These findings were published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Waters Of Mars

Scientists have long suspected that there are large reserves of water under the surface of Mars. In 2002, the Odyssey spacecraft scanned the red planet from its orbit and found ice a few feet underground at high altitudes. Then, in 2016, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter found buried ice sheet located at the planet's mid-latitude that, according to estimates, hold water as much as Lake Superior. 

Meanwhile, in August, scientists published a study claiming that there might be subglacial liquid water under the surface of Mars. Radar scans suggest a stable reservoir of liquid water nearly a mile beneath the planet's south pole. Further hypothesis claims that the liquid water is salty based on the existence of perchlorate salts on various areas in the planet. 

Life On Mars

The recent study conducted by Caltech and JPL scientists added to the hypothesis that there is salty liquid water below the surface that might have dissolved oxygen and, maybe, life. 

"Oxygen is a key ingredient when determining the habitability of an environment, but it is relatively scarce on Mars," stated Woody Fischer, a co-author of the study and a professor of geobiology at Caltech. 

The hypothesis is based on the presence of perchlorate which could have lowered the freezing point of water under the surface, allowing it to stay liquid despite the planet's extreme cold temperature. If the water is near enough to the surface, it could have also absorbed oxygen from the planet's thinning atmosphere. 

"Nobody ever thought that the concentrations of dissolved oxygen needed for aerobic respiration could theoretically exist on Mars," added co-author Vlada Stamenković of JPL. 

This, however, does not confirm that life exists on Mars. However, it does give scientists an idea of where to look for evidence of extraterrestrial creatures in future missions.

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