May 29, 2014 04:08 AM EDT
Researchers Find Evidence of Habitable Environment at the Foot of Martian Volcano
Life could have existed in Mars at the foot of a giant volcano that is as tall as Mt.Everest, according to a Brown University study.
Researchers said that microbial life probably existed at the foot of Arsia Mons - that was once encrusted with a glacier, about 210 million years ago. The combination of ice and heat would have resulted in a huge mass of water, which could have sustained for hundreds or a few thousand years.
"I was very excited," said lead author Kathleen Scanlon, a doctoral student and geologist at the Brown University. "It's all a really nice suite of land forms that together all point to the exact same process. So, that was really cool," Los Angeles Times reported.
Researchers arrived at the conclusion after analyzing signs left on the Martian surface. They said that the marks left on the terrain were similar to that of those abandoned by glaciers in Antarctica's McMurdo Dry Valleys.
They also said that two liquid bubbles formed by melting in the solid glacial ice would have contained about 40 cubic kilometers of water, equivalent to roughly a third of the size of Lake Tahoe. The water accumulated in these deposits and would have remained in liquid form for several centuries.
Microbes surviving a sub-glacial lake, freezing temperatures, total darkness and high pressures may not sound convincing. But these organisms have been found to endure similar conditions on earth too. A 2013 Bowling Green State University study found microbes thrived more than 2 miles underneath the ice. The researchers discovered DNA from a variety of microbes in ice cores from a sub-glacial lake in Antarctica.
"If we can confirm that there was life around then, then our next question is, how long was it able to survive, and could there still be dormant microbes lying somewhere around on the surface?" Scanlon said. "I think Arsia Mons would be a good site to answer questions like that - if that does become a question."
The findings come as NASA and other space agencies are continuing to establish whether life existed on the Red Planet.
The finding is published in the journal Icarus.
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