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The Secret to Life on Mars May Be in Marsquakes

Mars experiences a magnitude-2 marsquake event every 34 days and a magnitude-7 event every 4,500 years. According to new research, these marsquakes (registered trademark of my new breakfast cereal) – if they cause the same reactions as earthquakes – may be releasing hydrogen gas to mix with Martian water to support the growth of microorganisms … life on Mars.

This is just one part of the emerging picture of the habitability of the Martian subsurface, where other sources of energy for life may also be available.

Yale geologist Sean McMahon authored a study published in the journal Astrobiology on research which first looked at samples from around the world of rocks created when earthquakes fracture the ground. Silicon released by the process reacted with water to form hydrogen gas which was then trapped in the rocks. The researchers found that the rocks were richer in trapped hydrogen gas than normal and tests showed that they contained enough to support the growth of hydrogenotrophs – microorganisms that metabolize hydrogen for energy.

Many locations on Mars show evidence of what could be marsquakes

Many locations on Mars show evidence of what could be marsquakes

Could this same process happen on Mars and support hydrogenotrophs or some other form of Martian hydrogen-consuming life? McMahaon thinks so.

Mars is not very seismically active, but our work shows that ‘Marsquakes’ could produce enough hydrogen to support small populations of microorganisms, at least for short periods of time.

Models using statistics on the frequency of marsquakes taken from data sent back by NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor show that the quakes annually generate only 11 tons (10 metric tons) of hydrogen across the entire planet. Still, that could be enough for microorganisms if they live near pockets holding larger-than-average bubbles of hydrogen gas. On Earth, hydrogenotrophs don’t need much hydrogen to survive and can be dormant for thousands of years.

A Martian avalanche that was possibly triggered by a marsquake

A Martian avalanche that was possibly triggered by a marsquake

What we need now is … more data, of course. Co-authors John Parnell of the University of Aberdeen and Nigel Blamey of Brock University reveal future plans that could shake up the masrquakes-make-life theories.

NASA has plans to measure seismic activity on Mars during its 2018 InSight mission, and our data will make those measurements all the more interesting.

Many music historians point to the song “Shake, Rattle and Roll” recorded by Big Joe Turner & His Blues Kings as the event that created rock music. Will historians someday look back at the shakes, rattles and rolls on Mars as the events that created life on the planet?

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Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.
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