Scientists Say This New Mars Acid River Study May Finally Reveal Ancient Aliens
When space agencies look to simulate the Martian environment here on Earth, they turn to places like the Utah desert, or Death Valley. It may surprise you, then, to learn that a new study published by the Imperial College London uses Dorset, a region in southwest England, as a model for a middle-aged Mars—or more specifically, Mars' streams. What they've discovered may be the key to settling the mystery of whether Mars was once hosting alien life.
Dorset's St. Oswald's Bay is home to highly acidic streams that contain a lot of sulfur, which would normally seem like a bad place to find evidence of life. However, the scientists found evidence of lipids, also known as fatty acids, embedded in iron oxide rocks like goethite and hematite within or near the streams. These lipids are traces of microbial life, and their discovery may provide a template for finding microbe fossils on Mars: the Red Planet gets its name from the reddish color of iron oxide rocks, including hematite, which can be formed when goethite becomes dehydrated.
At this point, it's commonly accepted that Mars had some portion of its surface covered by liquid water, but that water eventually evaporated, leaving most of the planet dry and dusty. Before that point, though, Mars' streams may have looked a lot like the ones in Dorset, including the acid content.
According to Dr. Jonathan Tan, one of the co-authors of the new study: "St. Oswald's Bay is a present-day microcosm of middle-aged Mars. As the acid streams dry up, like during Mars' 'drying period', they leave goethite minerals behind which preserve fatty acids that act as biological signatures."
Based on their estimations, the authors of the study estimate that there might thousands of metric tonnes of lipids preserved on Mars, enough to fill roughly 12,000 Olympic swimming pools.
This means the same methods the researchers used on Earth might be used to search Mars for traces of life.
"If life existed before the water dried up, it would probably have left remains that are preserved to this day in Martian rock," says Mark Sephton, another scientist associated with the study. "However, we have yet to find convincing traces of organic matter that would indicate previous life on the Red Planet."
Considering all the Mars missions planned for the future, that may change very soon.