Mars study yields clues to possible cradle of life

October 6, 2017 by Guy Webster, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
This view of a portion of the Eridania region of Mars shows blocks of deep-basin deposits that have been surrounded and partially buried by younger volcanic deposits. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The discovery of evidence for ancient sea-floor hydrothermal deposits on Mars identifies an area on the planet that may offer clues about the origin of life on Earth.

A recent international report examines observations by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) of massive deposits in a basin on southern Mars. The authors interpret the data as evidence that these deposits were formed by heated water from a volcanically active part of the planet's crust entering the bottom of a large sea long ago.

"Even if we never find evidence that there's been on Mars, this site can tell us about the type of environment where life may have begun on Earth," said Paul Niles of NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston. "Volcanic activity combined with standing water provided conditions that were likely similar to conditions that existed on Earth at about the same time—when early life was evolving here."

Mars today has neither standing water nor volcanic activity. Researchers estimate an age of about 3.7 billion years for the Martian deposits attributed to seafloor hydrothermal activity. Undersea hydrothermal conditions on Earth at about that same time are a strong candidate for where and when life on Earth began. Earth still has such conditions, where many forms of life thrive on chemical energy extracted from rocks, without sunlight. But due to Earth's active crust, our planet holds little direct geological evidence preserved from the time when life began. The possibility of undersea hydrothermal activity inside icy moons such as Europa at Jupiter and Enceladus at Saturn feeds interest in them as destinations in the quest to find extraterrestrial life.

The Eridania basin of southern Mars is believed to have held a sea about 3.7 billion years ago, with seafloor deposits likely resulting from underwater hydrothermal activity. Credit: NASA

Observations by MRO's Compact Reconnaissance Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) provided the data for identifying minerals in massive deposits within Mars' Eridania basin, which lies in a region with some of the Red Planet's most ancient exposed crust.

"This site gives us a compelling story for a deep, long-lived sea and a deep-sea hydrothermal environment," Niles said. "It is evocative of the deep-sea hydrothermal environments on Earth, similar to environments where life might be found on other worlds—life that doesn't need a nice atmosphere or temperate surface, but just rocks, heat and water."

Niles co-authored the recent report in the journal Nature Communications with lead author Joseph Michalski, who began the analysis while at the Natural History Museum, London, andco-authors at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, and the Natural History Museum.

Mars Study Yields Clues to Possible Cradle of Life
This diagram illustrates an interpretation for the origin of some deposits in the Eridania basin of southern Mars as resulting from seafloor hydrothermal activity more than 3 billion years ago. Credit: NASA

The researchers estimate the ancient Eridania sea held about 50,000 cubic miles (210,000 cubic kilometers) of water. That is as much as all other lakes and seas on ancient Mars combined and about nine times more than the combined volume of all of North America's Great Lakes. The mix of minerals identified from the spectrometer data, including serpentine, talc and carbonate, and the shape and texture of the thick bedrock layers, led to identifying possible seafloor hydrothermal deposits. The area has lava flows that post-date the disappearance of the sea. The researchers cite these as evidence that this is an area of Mars' crust with a volcanic susceptibility that also could have produced effects earlier, when the sea was present.

The new work adds to the diversity of types of wet environments for which evidence exists on Mars, including rivers, lakes, deltas, seas, hot springs, groundwater, and volcanic eruptions beneath ice.

"Ancient, deep-water hydrothermal deposits in Eridania basin represent a new category of astrobiological target on Mars," the report states. It also says, "Eridania seafloor deposits are not only of interest for Mars exploration, they represent a window into early Earth." That is because the earliest evidence of life on Earth comes from seafloor deposits of similar origin and age, but the geological record of those early-Earth environments is poorly preserved.

Explore further: Elevated zinc and germanium levels bolster evidence for habitable environments on Mars

More information: Joseph R. Michalski et al. Ancient hydrothermal seafloor deposits in Eridania basin on Mars, Nature Communications (2017). DOI: 10.1038/ncomms15978

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someone11235813
1.4 / 5 (9) Oct 06, 2017
The Miller Urey Experiment, showed that it's possible to reproduce some commonly thought to exist ingredients and conditions and end up with a few amino acids. That's all it showed. I am not impressed. Unless and until a similar experiment can show that using commonly thought to exist billions of years ago, ingredients and conditions are then shown to produce a self replicating molecule with an ability to evolve, then I will continue to maintain that life on earth is unique in the Galaxy and possibly the visible Universe and no amount of "but there are so many stars and there fore planets" is going to make one whit of difference. We so far have a sample of exactly one.
TrollBane
1 / 5 (1) Oct 07, 2017
My friend Bugs insists it was two tiny cartoon amoeba!
strappolee
not rated yet Oct 07, 2017
I wonder if this site is in range of the landing capability of the Mars 2020 rover?
or is it too far south?
doogsnova
1 / 5 (3) Oct 07, 2017
How many scientists does it take to learn the truth about Mars? Zero. WCFTSATFM Wanna know what 10,000 scientists don't know? billymeier dot wordpress dot com slash downloads
Dark_Solar
5 / 5 (2) Oct 09, 2017
@someone11235813

The Miller Urey Experiment, showed that it's possible to reproduce some commonly thought to exist ingredients and conditions and end up with a few amino acids. That's all it showed. I am not impressed. Unless and until a similar experiment can show that using commonly thought to exist billions of years ago, ingredients and conditions are then shown to produce a self replicating molecule with an ability to evolve


Actually, researchers have made recent significant findings along exactly those lines. Looking for the article now, will link to it when I find.
torbjorn_b_g_larsson
5 / 5 (3) Oct 09, 2017
@someone: As DarkSolar points out, we now have evolutionary evidence that life emerged in this type of environment. One paper tied the UCA ancestor lineage to it, another tested its phylogeny as correct by tying the archaeal ancestor with other methods to the tree.

But I assume from your comment that you are not interested in such (natural) experimental evidence. Else I would point out that the type planet we know of have life had it start very early, implying it emerged easily. And the first paper above replicates that, since it found that the LUCA was half alive. It was a set of "self replicating molecule[s] with an ability to evolve" in the form of a cell dependent on the environment for still synthesizing essential molecules. That is after all how evolution works, by small and easy steps.

In any case you cannot draw your conclusion from just one sample without looking at the time aspect. And then it is just not reasonable.
thomasct
1 / 5 (3) Oct 09, 2017
Mars was knocked out of it's orbit in 195,960BC when the 3rd human-inhabited Planet in our Sol System, Milona/Milopa was destroyed in a massive explosion in a local war. Tens of millions died on Mars and Milona. Also.. humankind in this Dern Universe is approx. 100billion years old. (The Pleiadian Mission by Randolph Winters get's you ahead of the Mainstream's guesswork by a few 1000 years)! Milona is now the asteroid belt. Man-made structures on Mars photo-ed by nasa Orbiters.. (that haven't been air-brushed out).. are on enterprisemission.com.
thomasct
1 / 5 (4) Oct 09, 2017
How many scientists does it take to learn the truth about Mars? Zero. WCFTSATFM Wanna know what 10,000 scientists don't know? billymeier dot wordpress dot com slash downloads


YES! All well documented, precise and brief by Randolph Winters in the Pleaidian Mission, after spending 3 months with Swiss Billy Meier.

Mainstream scientists dare not go out of their tightly controlled box.. otherwise.. no funding, no job, hassled and shamed.
someone11235813
not rated yet Oct 10, 2017
@Dark_Solar, I'll be watching for your link.

@torbjorn_b_g_larsson, it is unreasonable to point to the long time involved because that is the very reason that we reproduce whatever conditions that we want to test, and thus eliminate what takes time. For example, if we wish to test hypotheses where there is an oxygen atmosphere, we do not need to wait 2 billion years, we simply supply the atmosphere that we wish to test. All I'm saying is that until we can actually show the steps for life to occur from non life, then it is not possible to say that life in the Universe must be common simply by pointing to the early conditions on Earth and to then say, 'if it happened under these conditions then it MUST happen under these conditions ALWAYS'. that is simply an hypothesis based on incredulity, which is not scientific at all.

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