A recent study found that Martian soil may be too toxic to harbor alien life. According to the research, the perchlorate-rich soil could turn into a deadly mix for bacteria when it comes in contact with ultraviolet light.
Space probes first detected perchlorates in the Red Planet’s soil in 1976. Several other space missions confirmed the presence of the chemical compound on the Martian surface. In 2009, scientists found that the substance accounts for 0.4-0.6 percent of the soil’s contents.
Perchlorates are not only toxic to bacteria. They are poisonous to humans too. However, in the case of bacteria, the substance must be exposed to UV light first to kill them.
Because bacteria usually love perchlorates scientists had hoped that Mars would have had a friendly alien life environment. On Earth, microorganisms use perchlorates, a mix of oxygen and chlorine, as energy source. The chemical also reduces the melting point of water which could boost the likelihood of liquid water on Mars.
However, the latest research, which appeared in the Scientific Reports journal, shattered all those hopes. The new study revealed that the element exposed to UV rays is not microbe-friendly. In addition, Mars’ thin atmosphere allows a large amount of Ultra Violet radiation to reach its surface.
When heated perchlorates and other chlorine-based chemicals can prove deadly to small living cells.
Study authors wanted to measure the exact amount of damage perchlorates could do to tiny microbial life. So, they placed bacteria in an artificial environment that mimicked the Martian surface.
The research team first tested the bacteria in low oxygen and low temperature conditions while exposed to perchlorate. The microorganisms survived for an hour. However, when scientists added UV radiation to the environment, all bacteria died in less than a minute.
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