Ancient Martian formations could show how life started on Earth

A string of hydrothermal vents discovered on Mars could help researchers better understand how Earth first began to support life.
By Jeremy Morrow | Oct 10, 2017
Mars' ancient hydrothermal deposits could help shed light on the origins of life on Earth, a new study in Nature Communications reports.

Past studies have shown that hydrothermal vents on the ocean floors of early Earth could have created the perfect conditions for life. Now, a group of NASA researchers have uncovered similar conditions on the surface of Mars.

The team made this discovery while analyzing a 3.7-billion-year-old basin on the south side of the planet. Not only does the structure give a look into the planet's history, but it could also give a better idea of the conditions that first led to life on Earth.

This is because, while Mars is now dry, it once had large amounts of both water and volcanic activity. That means it could have also once supported hydrothermal activity, which is still quite common on the bottom of Earth's oceans. The process generates heat in water, and creates all of the necessary elements for organisms to exist.

"Even if we never find evidence that there's been life on Mars, this site can tell us about the type of environment where life may have begun on Earth," said study co-author Paul Niles, a scientist at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, in a statement. "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."

The new research gives compelling evidence that Mars once had a deep-sea hydrothermal environment that is similar to ecosystems on Earth. That gives credence to the idea that life may have once existed on other planets. Further study of such mechanisms could extend our understanding of the universe and provide new information about how life first emerged on our own planet.

"Ancient, deep-water hydrothermal deposits in Eridania basin represent a new category of astrobiological target on Mars," scientists wrote, according to UPI . "Eridania seafloor deposits are not only of interest for Mars exploration, they represent a window into early Earth."


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