Could salt-loving microbes explain Mars’ methane? | 1/26/2020 | Paul Scott Anderson
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Ancient lake sediments in Gale Crater on Mars. The Curiosity rover has detected methane in this region, and this is the kind of environment where methanogenic archaea-type microorganisms might still survive today, with soils containing salts and clays. Image via NASA/ JPL-Caltech.

Since it was first detected earlier in this century, methane in Mars’ thin air has been one of the most intriguing mysteries of the red planet. Record high levels of methane – reported in Mars’ atmosphere last June – was one of 2019’s biggest science stories. Is Mars’ methane created by geological processes? Or could it be a sign of life? That debate has raged more intensely in the past few years. Now a new study by researchers at Technical University Berlin (TU Berlin) outlines a possible mechanism where microbial life could indeed explain the findings.

Research - Article - Dirk - Air - Space

The research was discussed in an article by Dirk Schulze-Makuch in Air & Space on January 9, 2020, and the peer-reviewed paper was published on January 8 in Scientific Reports. The findings were also presented on September 4, 2019, at the 19th EANA Astrobiology Conference in Orleans, France.

The study, led by Debbie Maus from TU Berlin, focused on how microbes can survive on water obtained only through deliquescence, where salts absorb tiny amounts of water directly from the air and then dissolve in the absorbed moisture. This would be essential on Mars, where there is no liquid water known on the dry, cold surface. Extremophile microorganisms on Earth can survive this way, however, making use of whatever tiny amounts of moisture are present. Could the same be true for Mars?

Microbes - Deliquescence - Methane - Soil - Contains

Some earthly microbes that employ deliquescence also release methane. And it’s known that Martian soil contains salts. So could deliquescence on Mars explain the methane in the air? While the current study doesn’t prove it...
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