Searching salt for answers about life on Earth, Mars

Aug 10, 2012 By Lainie Rusco
Associate professor Mark Schneegurt had a paper published in the journal "Astrobiology" about microbial life on Mars.

Wichita State University associate professor Mark Schneegurt recently had a paper published in the journal Astrobiology.

His paper focused on that live in environments that are salty, but not with – the kind of salt we're used to. It has to do with , also known as Epsom salt.

Researchers have discovered that not only is there evidence of liquid water on Mars, but the planet is also rich with magnesium sulfate.

One of the questions Schneegurt is seeking an answer to is whether microbial life on can grow at these high concentrations of magnesium sulfate.

"This impacts our understanding of what ancient or current life on Mars may be like," he said. "What single discovery could have a greater impact on our philosophy and culture, how we view ourselves in the universe, than finding life on another planet?"

Finding life on Mars?

Other questions his paper and research deal with include:

  • Are there any microbes on Earth that may be able to survive on Mars?
  • How can we protect our search for life on Mars by preventing terrestrial microbes from infecting Mars when a spacecraft lands?
  • Are epsotolerant microbes a glimpse at what life may have been like – or is like – on Mars?
Schneegurt said it's been hypothesized that living in high magnesium sulfate may be the hardest part of living on Mars, but his contention is that it's not as difficult as some scientists think.

Part of his research also focuses on searching for life in lakes with high magnesium sulfate levels, as well as searching for similar life in spacecraft assembly facility clean rooms.

Schneegurt and his research team have been working at Hot Lake in Washington and Basque Lake in British Columbia, and have isolated hundreds of microbes that grow at high magnesium sulfate concentrations. The goal is to characterize those and see if they can also find them in spacecraft assembly facilities.

"If we bring life with us and it can grow on Mars, this makes it more difficult to be sure that any life we find on Mars actually comes from Mars," he said. "It also will impact our efforts in forward planetary protection, where life from Earth contaminates Mars when a spacecraft lands."

Schneegurt said not only can his research teach us more about life on . It can teach us about our own planet.

"Our work has relevance to the origins of life on Earth, since may have arisen from a briny tidal pool." he said.

Explore further: Red moon at night; stargazer's delight

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NASA images, White Sands features support a wetter Mars

Dec 07, 2006

NASA's announcement yesterday of evidence that water still flows on Mars, at least in brief spurts, demonstrates that the view of Mars as a very dry planet should be reevaluated, says Dawn Sumner, professor of geology at UC ...

Sopping salts could reveal history of water on Mars

Oct 06, 2004

Epsom-like salts believed to be common on Mars may be a major source of water there, say geologists at Indiana University Bloomington and Los Alamos National Laboratory. In their report in this week's Nature, ...

Next Mars rover nears completion

Apr 07, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Assembly and testing of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft is far enough along that the mission's rover, Curiosity, looks very much as it will when it is investigating Mars.

Recommended for you

Red moon at night; stargazer's delight

15 hours ago

Monday night's lunar eclipse proved just as delightful as expected to those able to view it. On the East Coast, cloudy skies may have gotten in the way, but at the National Science Foundation's National Optical ...

Meteorites yield clues to Martian early atmosphere

17 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Geologists who analyzed 40 meteorites that fell to Earth from Mars unlocked secrets of the Martian atmosphere hidden in the chemical signatures of these ancient rocks. Their study, published ...

Let's put a sailboat on Titan

20 hours ago

The large moons orbiting the gas giants in our solar system have been getting increasing attention in recent years. Titan, Saturn's largest moon, is the only natural satellite known to house a thick atmosphere. ...

Image: Rosetta's Philae lander snaps a selfie

21 hours ago

Philae is awake… and taking pictures! This image, acquired last night with the lander's CIVA (Comet nucleus Infrared and Visible Analyzer) instrument, shows the left and right solar panels of ESA's well-traveled ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Meteorites yield clues to Martian early atmosphere

(Phys.org) —Geologists who analyzed 40 meteorites that fell to Earth from Mars unlocked secrets of the Martian atmosphere hidden in the chemical signatures of these ancient rocks. Their study, published ...

Let's put a sailboat on Titan

The large moons orbiting the gas giants in our solar system have been getting increasing attention in recent years. Titan, Saturn's largest moon, is the only natural satellite known to house a thick atmosphere. ...

Robotics goes micro-scale

(Phys.org) —The development of light-driven 'micro-robots' that can autonomously investigate and manipulate the nano-scale environment in a microscope comes a step closer, thanks to new research from the ...

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...