Uninhabited habitats on Mars

Cockell, Charles S.; Balme, Matt; Bridges, John C.; Davila, Alfonso and Schwenzer, Susanne P. (2012). Uninhabited habitats on Mars. Icarus, 217(1) pp. 184–193.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.icarus.2011.10.025

Abstract

Investigations of Mars as a potential location for life often make the assumption that where there are habitats, they will contain organisms. However, the observation of the ubiquitous distribution of life in habitable environments on the Earth does not imply the presence of life in martian habitats. Although uninhabited habitats are extremely rare on the Earth, a lack of a productive photosynthetic biosphere on Mars to generate organic carbon and oxygen, thus providing a rapidly available redox couple for energy acquisition by life and/or a lack of connectivity between habitats potentially increases the scope and abundance of uninhabited habitats for much of the geological history of the planet. Uninhabited habitats could have existed on Mars from the Noachian to the present-day in impact hydrothermal systems, megaflood systems, lacustrine environments, transient melted permafrost, gullies and local regions of volcanic activity; and there may be evidence for them in martian meteorites. Uninhabited habitats would provide control habitats to investigate the role of biology in planetary-scale geochemical processes on the Earth and they would provide new constraints on the habitability of Mars. Future robotic craft and samples returned from Mars will be able to directly show if uninhabited habitats exist or existed on Mars.

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