Mimetic Martian water is under pressure

October 13, 2017, University of Leeds
Mars
Credit: NASA

Researchers investigating whether liquid water could exist on Mars have provided new insight into the limits of life on the red planet.

A team led by Dr Lorna Dougan from the University of Leeds has analysed the structure of in a magnesium perchlorate solution —what they refer to as "mimetic Martin water"—to better understand how the liquid could exist on the Martian surface.

Martian soil samples gathered by the Phoenix Lander in 2009 found calcium and powerful oxidants, including magnesium perchlorate. This fuelled speculation that perchlorate brine flows might be the cause of channelling and weathering observed on the planet's surface.

Dr Dougan, from the School of Physics and Astronomy and the Astbury Centre said: "The discovery of significant amounts of different perchlorate salts in Martian soil gives new insight into the Martian 'riverbeds.'

"The surface temperatures on Mars may reach a high of about 20°Celcius at the equator and as low as -153° Celsius at the pole. With an average surface temperature of -55° Celsius, water itself cannot exist as a liquid on Mars, but concentrated solutions of perchlorate could survive these low temperatures."

Through experiments conducted at the ISIS Facility and computer modelling, the team was able to refine and analyse the structure of mimetic Martian water.

The outcome of their analysis, published today in Nature Communications, shows that the magnesium perchlorate solutions have a dramatic impact on water structure. The effect of the perchlorate is equivalent to pressurizing pure water to 2 billion pascals or more. The team observed that the ions in the water become partially segregated and it is likely this segregation is what stops the liquid from freezing.

Dr Dougan said: "We found these observations quite intriguing. It gives a different perspective of how salts dissolve in water. The magnesium is clearly a major contributing factor on the freezing point of this solution and paves the way for understanding how a fluid might exist under the sub-freezing conditions of Mars.

"It raises interesting questions about the possibility of life on Mars. If the structure of Martian water is highly pressurised, perhaps we might expect to find organisms adapted to high pressure life similar to piezophiles on Earth, such as deep sea bacteria and other organisms that thrive at high pressure.

"This highlights the importance of studying life in extreme environments in both terrestrial and non-terrestrial environments so that we can fully understand the natural limits of .

Explore further: Martian salts must touch ice to make liquid water, study shows

More information: Samuel Lenton et al, Highly compressed water structure observed in a perchlorate aqueous solution, Nature Communications (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-01039-9

Related Stories

A salty, martian meteorite offers clues to habitability

August 28, 2014

Life as we know it requires energy of some sort to survive and thrive. For plants, that source of energy is the Sun. But there are some microbes that can survive using energy from chemical reactions. Some of them even eat ...

Recommended for you

Engineers invent groundbreaking spin-based memory device

December 7, 2018

A team of international researchers led by engineers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have invented a new magnetic device to manipulate digital information 20 times more efficiently and with 10 times more stability ...

Multichannel vectorial holographic display and encryption

December 7, 2018

Holography is a powerful tool that can reconstruct wavefronts of light and combine the fundamental wave properties of amplitude, phase, polarization, wave vector and frequency. Smart multiplexing techniques (multiple signal ...

A new 'spin' on kagome lattices

December 7, 2018

Like so many targets of scientific inquiry, the class of material referred to as the kagome magnet has proven to be a source of both frustration and amazement. Further revealing the quantum properties of the kagome magnet ...

How ice particles promote the formation of radicals

December 7, 2018

The production of chlorofluorocarbons, which damage the ozone layer, has been banned as far as possible. However, other substances can also tear holes in the ozone layer in combination with ice particles, such as those found ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.