[A] new paper in Astrobiology shows that there might very well be a place where life can sustain itself on the red planet – right underneath the surface.
Radiolysis occurs when rocks break apart water that is trapped in their porous structure and then bombarded with radiation from the decay of radioactive isotopes in the rock formation.
The broken water molecules release elemental oxygen and hydrogen. Each of those constituent molecules plays an important role in the biological process that sustains some types of microbes.
Dr. [Jesse] Tarnas’ team was interested in whether the materials needed to support that radiolysis process would be present in the Martian subsurface… They found that all three of the key ingredients for a radiolysis ecosystem were present in enough quantities in the meteorites they studied to support a bacterial colony similar to those found on the Earth.
Simply because the environmental conditions are right does not mean that a bacterial colony actually exists. So far there has been no conclusive evidence for the existence of life on Mars. But that doesn’t stop scientists from looking. With the addition of this new research, there is now a stronger case for a mission specifically to look for life underground on the red planet.