Martian surface lethal to life, study says

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Mars, manned mission

A new study has uprooted hopes of finding life on Mars as it claims that the Martian surface is lethal to vegetative cells and effectively all forms of life.

According to researcher at Edinburgh university,  a “toxic cocktail” of chemicals that can wipe out living organisms have been found on the surface of Mars, diminishing the prospects for life on the red planet. Further,  the absence of an Ozone layer means Mars is hit with high levels of Ultra Violet radiation.

Experiments by researchers at Edinburgh University have found that when this combined with compounds found in the Martian soil, they turned into potent bactericides, effectively sterilising the upper layers of the landscape.

Researchers combined these compounds with with Bacillus subtilis, a common Earth soil bacterium often found on space probes.  When mixed with an oxidant called magnesium perchlorate and exposed to UV radiation – similar to the light which surrounds the red planet – the living organisms were destroyed twice as fast.

When the bacteria were hit with UV rays in the presence of perchlorates, iron oxide and peroxide, the bugs were killed 11 times faster than with perchlorates alone.  As a result inhospitable conditions on Mars are caused by a “toxic cocktail of oxidants, iron oxides, perchlorates and UV irradiation”, the researchers wrote in Scientific Reports journal.

The good news is that there is less risk of human contamination of Mars, through hitchhiking bacteria.  Works of fiction have long imagined what it would be like, such as the 2015 film The Martian.  When stranded on Mars, Matt Damon’s character builds a greenhouse, fertilising the soil with his own faeces — and soon grows potatoes.  But the results of this study make that scenario appear farfetched.

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