Life on Mars: a non-traditional source for warmer waters

Hydrothermal vent on the right spewing water into a river on the left. Background has trees and sky. From Yellowstone National Park.

Article: Amagmatic hydrothermal systems on Mars from radiogenic heat

Authors: L. Ojha, S. Karunatillake, S. Karimi, and J. Buffo

Many people are familiar with Yellowstone National Park’s famous geyser, Old Faithful – but did you know that the heat fueling Old Faithful’s eruptions are from magma chambers that warm up underground fluids until they shoot out of the ground? Hydrothermal systems like this are found in other places, too, and can be fueled by different kinds of heat sources. In fact, scientists at Rutgers University have recently identified one such heat source – the heat generated by radioactive decay from certain chemical elements – that could help answer questions about whether liquid water, a critical component for life as we know it, could exist on Mars.

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Oxia Planum: ExoMars 2022 Landing Site

Featured Image: Artist’s impression of ESA’s ExoMars rover ‘Rosalind Franklin’ on the surface of Mars. Credit: ESA.

Paper: Oxia Planum: The Landing Site for the ExoMars “Rosalind Franklin” Rover Mission: Geological Context and Prelanding Interpretation

Authors: Quantin-Nataf et al., 2021

We are entering a new dawn of Mars exploration: Perseverance rover touched down on Mars earlier this year, which marks the start of what will be a decade-long effort to return samples from Mars. In 2022 the European Space Agency (ESA) will launch the ExoMars rover, which will team up with the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) to find evidence of past or present life on Mars.

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Prehistoric Microbial Meals Found in the Australian Outback

Featured Image: Rock fracture from the Dresser Formation, Australia. Fluid inclusions are trapped in the white stripes. Image courtesy Ser Amantio di Nicolao, used with permission.

Paper: Ingredients for microbial life preserved in 3.5 billion-year-old fluid inclusions

Authors: Helge Mißbach, Jan-Peter Duda, Alfons M. van den Kerkhof, Volker Lüders, Andreas Pack, Joachim Reitner, Volker Thiel

Just a few weeks ago NASA made a historic landing of the Perseverance rover on Mars.  This rover symbolizes our human drive for exploration and the need to find the origins of life to answer the big question—are we alone in the universe?  In addition to extraterrestrial investigation and research, we can address this fundamental question here on our own planet by digging into extreme environments that are analogs for ancient Earth or other planets.  These unusual environments, such as hydrothermal vents in our deepest oceans, boiling hot springs in Yellowstone, and prehistoric lakes in South America, can give us glimpses of ancient information and clues about to the ingredients of life.  By discovering our own origins of life, we can begin to understand how it may evolve on other planets.

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Tiny Crystals, Big Story: Time capsules from the Early Mars

Featured Image: Zircon grain under the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM). Image used with permission from Wikipedia (Emmanuel Roquette).

Article: The internal structure and geodynamics of Mars inferred from a 4.2-Gyr zircon record.

Authors: Maria M. Costa, Ninna K. Jensen, Laura C. Bouvier, James N. Connelly, Takashi Mikouchi, Matthew S. A. Horstwood, Jussi-Petteri Suuronen, Frédéric Moynier, Zhengbin Deng, Arnaud Agranier, Laure A. J. Martin, Tim E. Johnson, Alexander A. Nemchin, and Martin Bizzarro

While sitting in Geology 101 studying the geological time scale, most of us have gone through this experience where we imagined ourselves going back in time; visualizing mammoths passing by, dinosaurs hunting and fighting. But all these pictures start to become hazy and unclear when we reach close to 4 billion years. It is the time for which we have no rock records, and this is where zircons or what I would like to call “tiny survivors” comes in.

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To P, not to P? That is (an oversimplification of) the biogeochemical question—

Paper: Unraveling biogeochemical phosphorus dynamics in hyperarid Mars‐analogue soils using stable oxygen isotopes in phosphate

Authors: Jianxun Shen, Andrew C. Smith, Mark W. Claire, Aubrey L. Zerkle

Many geologists believe that ancient Mars, with its warmer temperatures and water-rich environment, may have been home to life. To test this hypothesis, astrobiologists must find signifiers of life that can survive the billions of years of hyperaridity experienced on the Martian surface. One such method could be identifying biotic alteration of the geochemical cycling of phosphorus, as was highly publicized during the recent discovery of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus. Researchers have taken the first step in this search by characterizing biological phosphorus cycling in the analog environment of the Atacama Desert – an endeavor that has applied novel techniques in chemistry to provide insights about the movement of phosphorus in arid environments.

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How did valleys form on early Mars? Some say in ice…

Featured image: The Nirgal Vallis river valley on Mars as seen by the HRSC Camera onboard the European Space Agency’s Mars Express mission. Image credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin.

Paper: Valley formation on early Mars by subglacial and fluvial erosion.

Authors: Anna Grau Galofre, A. Mark Jellinek & Gordon R. Osinski.

“Some say the world will end in fire/ Some say in ice” begins the famous poem by Robert Frost. But what about how worlds begin? For years the theory of a “warm and wet” early Mars has been the conventional explanation for the vast valley networks formed billions of years ago that we can see on the surface today. Now, a new study suggests that at least some of these valleys could have formed under colossal ice sheets, in a distinctly more icy world.

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It’s LeviOsa, Not LevioSA: The Science Of Levitating Mud On Mars

Featured image: A mud volcano and mud flows in Azerbaijan. Credit: CAS/ Petr Brož/ CC BY-SA 4.0.

Paper: Mud flow levitation on Mars: Insights from laboratory simulations

Authors: Petr Brož et al.,

The Mariner spacecraft’s first images of Mars in the 1960s and 70s showed large volcanoes and flow features, most likely lava or mud. These features were largely interpreted to be lava flows because they look similar to those seen on Earth. However, a 2020 study by Brož et al., shows that mud flows may be more prevalent on Mars than first hypothesized. 

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Water, but not a drop to drink: multiple salty lakes beneath the south pole of Mars?

Featured image: The south pole of Mars as seen by the HRSC Camera onboard the European Space Agency’s Mars Express mission. Image credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin.

Paper: Multiple subglacial water bodies below the south pole of Mars unveiled by new MARSIS data.

Authors: Sebastian Emanuel Lauro, Elena Pettinelli, Graziella Caprarelli, Luca Guallini, Angelo Pio Rossi, Elisabetta Mattei, Barbara Cosciotti, Andrea Cicchetti, Francesco Soldovieri, Marco Cartacci, Federico Di Paolo, Raffaella Noschese and Roberto Orosei.

“Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink”- or at least that might be the case beneath the south pole of Mars. In 2018, a team of scientists reported a potential subsurface lake of liquid water 1.5 km beneath the Martian south polar cap. Now, using more observations as well as new analysis methods previously used for ice sheets on Earth, the same team presents new evidence for a large subsurface lake as well as three other lakes in the same area. This raises further questions about how such lakes could be kept liquid in the cold environment of Mars, and whether they could provide a habitable environment for astrobiology.

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Marsquakes give scientists an InSight to Mars

Featured image: An artist’s concept of NASA’s InSight lander on Mars with a cutaway of the surface below. Credit: IPGP/Nicolas Sarter.

Paper: Constraints on the shallow elastic and anelastic structure of Mars from InSight seismic data

Authors: Philippe Lognonné et al.,

Scientists are able to ‘see’ the internal structure of the Earth based on seismic waves recorded during Earthquakes. Earthquakes send seismic waves out in all directions with two main types: (1) surface waves are the major culprits of Earthquake damage as they remain on the surface; (2) faster body waves can travel down within Earth’s interior. The body waves are the fastest seismic waves, consisting of the first (primary; P-wave) and second (secondary, S-wave) waves to arrive at a location away from the epicentre of an Earthquake.

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Lava tubes on the Moon and Mars might be big and stable enough for humans to live in

Featured image: A hole with approximately 150 metres diameter, indicating a potential lava tube on Mars. Public Domain (NASA/JPL/University of Arizona).

Paper: Lava tubes on Earth, Moon and Mars: A review on their size and morphology revealed by comparative planetology

Authors: Francesco Sauro, Riccardo Pozzobon, Matteo Massironi, Pierluigi De Berardinis, Tommaso Santagata, Jo De Waele.

Editor’s note: due to an editorial mixup, two Geobites authors—unbeknownst to each other—wrote about the same paper. We encourage readers to take advantage of this opportunity to learn how two different geoscientists would describe the same exciting development in their field. The other post is here.

When you picture living on another planet, you probably don’t imagine living underground. But lava tubes – underground cave systems formed by flowing lava – are more sheltered from radiation and micrometeorites than the surface of the Moon or Mars. They are also more stable in temperature and could contain water ice. For these reasons both popular culture, such as the National Geographic Mars series, and scientists alike, have hypothesised that humans might live in them one day. Now, a new review and analysis study led by Francesco Sauro at the University of Bologna has sought to investigate potential lava tubes on both the Moon and Mars.

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