Mars too salty for life?

Inside Victoria Crater: View of Martian stratigraphic layer informally named "Lyell", the lowermost of three layers found inside of Victoria Crater by the Mars rover Opportunity.
Inside Victoria Crater: View of Martian stratigraphic layer informally named "Lyell", the lowermost of three layers found inside of Victoria Crater by the Mars rover Opportunity.Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University
The science gathered so far by the two Martian rovers, Opportunity and Spirit, suggests the Red Planet may have been a bit too inhospitable to support even the toughest forms of life.

Although strong evidence of water (at least in the planet’s past) has been found on Mars, recent assessment of the data shows it contains a much higher salt content than expected and that practically puts the kibosh on hopes of any microbes flourishing there.

Opportunity spent time recently examining strata exposed on the inner wall of Victoria Crater. NASA scientists hoped it would show a record of the ground surface as it existed prior to impact that created the crater. But analysis suggests it to be the top of an underground water table, and after reassessing earlier data, and performing some computer modeling, researchers think the environment may have been too harsh to support life.

"At first, we focused on acidity, because the environment would have been very acidic," said Dr. Andrew Knoll, a Harvard biologist who is a member of the rover science team. "Now, we also appreciate the high salinity of the water when it left behind the minerals Opportunity found. This tightens the noose on the possibility of life."

Knoll spoke at the annual meeting of the American Association of the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston.

"Life at the Martian surface would have been very challenging for the last 4 billion years. The best hopes for a story of life on Mars are at environments we haven't studied yet -- older ones, subsurface ones," he said.

Lower, more ancient, geological layers may hold a more hospitable picture of a less briny Martian environment, but the current rover missions aren’t set up to examine that.

"Our next missions, Phoenix and Mars Science Laboratory, mark a transition from water to habitability -- assessing whether sites where there's been water have had conditions suited to life," said Charles Elachi, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Where conditions were habitable, later missions may look for evidence of life."

The Phoenix lander is expected to reach Mars on May 25, 2008 in an area farther north on the planet where it will study the icy subsurface for viable signs of life. The Mars Science Laboratory will launch in the fall of 2009.

Opportunity and Spirit, the two rovers operating presently on opposite sides of the Mars, were sent there with one mission in mind: finding evidence of water. The missions were expected to last a mere three months, but have far surpassed that due to the robots’ high endurance, and problem-solving ingenuity of NASA engineers back on Earth. The robots are now entering their fifth year exploring the Martian surface.

NASA press release
BBC story
Mars info
More about Mars (with less salt)

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

I know this isn't quite the same thing, but I wonder how the salinity would have compared to ocean brine pools. They're extremely salty, but some organisms manage to survive in and around them.

posted on Sun, 02/17/2008 - 4:13pm
koallainfestation37's picture
koallainfestation37 says:

dang that could suck
but it would be cool to have some martin salt on my eggs
ya that would be cool

posted on Wed, 02/20/2008 - 10:39am
PORSCHA2008's picture
PORSCHA2008 says:


posted on Wed, 02/20/2008 - 10:41am
andyshadexx's picture
andyshadexx says:

Lets hope that the robot would find some water, but isn't is that part of salt are water?

posted on Wed, 02/20/2008 - 11:00am
galeff's picture
galeff says:

Too salty, huh? What if something was broken down into this water, maybe this water has not always been like that. Anyway to tell?

posted on Wed, 02/20/2008 - 11:10am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

The interest the sciences to discover and knew if the life exited there. The investigation prove the difference they found in another planets.

posted on Wed, 02/20/2008 - 11:12am
Candice_318's picture
Candice_318 says:


Have a great day

Sponsered in part by
IM AWESOME Productions

posted on Thu, 02/21/2008 - 11:19am
Looney_Tooney's picture
Looney_Tooney says:

What! How do you know it's salty?? Or did someone actually tasted it??

posted on Sun, 02/24/2008 - 1:48pm
hawa's picture
hawa says:

Wow wow .... how do the know that mars salty?

posted on Thu, 03/27/2008 - 2:00pm
astronomy's picture
astronomy says:

HAWA the mars rover + scientist study meteorites from mars to find out any information possible about mars. :)

posted on Sun, 11/28/2010 - 7:11pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

How about telling us something we actually would use as knowledge!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

posted on Thu, 03/27/2008 - 4:14pm
diamond2008's picture
diamond2008 says:

why do people care about mars is a planet that no one live

posted on Thu, 05/08/2008 - 10:09am
astronomy's picture
astronomy says:

it is possible for a salty habitat to support life. if there is more salt on the planed than there is the ocean life couldn't last very long.

posted on Sun, 11/28/2010 - 7:03pm
astronomy's picture
astronomy says:

diamond2008] scientist and alot of other people care about mars we need to no if a planet can or cannot support life its extremely valuable to scientist to make new discoveries.

posted on Sun, 11/28/2010 - 7:07pm

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <h3> <h4> <em> <i> <strong> <b> <span> <ul> <ol> <li> <blockquote> <object> <embed> <param> <sub> <sup>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • You may embed videos from the following providers vimeo, youtube. Just add the video URL to your textarea in the place where you would like the video to appear, i.e. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pw0jmvdh.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Images can be added to this post.

More information about formatting options