October 23, 2021

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Martian crust could sustain life through radiation

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Deep below the ground, radioactive elements disintegrate water molecules, producing ingredients that can fuel subterranean life. This process, known as radiolysis, has sustained bacteria in isolated, water-filled cracks and rock pores on Earth for millions to billions of years. Now a study published in Astrobiology contends that radiolysis could have powered microbial life in the Martian subsurface.

Dust storms, cosmic rays and solar winds ravage the Red Planet’s surface. But belowground, some life might find refuge. “The environment with the best chance of habitability on Mars is the subsurface,” says Jesse Tarnas, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the new study’s lead author. Examining the Martian underground could help scientists learn whether life could have survived there — and the best subsurface samples available today are Martian meteorites that have crash-landed on Earth.

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