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Mimetic Martian water is highly pressurized, experiments show

"This highlights the importance of studying life in extreme environments in both terrestrial and non-terrestrial environments," said researcher Lorna Dougan.

By Brooks Hays
Mimetic Martian water is highly pressurized, experiments show
New research imagines what a highly pressurized liquid water solution might look like on the surface of Mars. Photo by NASA/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 13 (UPI) -- Mars is too cold to host flowing liquid water, but with the right mix of compounds, a water solution could be hiding on and below Mars' surface.

New research suggests a solution dubbed "mimetic Martian water" could flow on and beneath the Red Planet's crust. Such a solution could explain the channeling, riveting and other evidence of weathering observed on the Martian surface.

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But the experiments also suggest such a water solution would be highly pressurized.

Martian soil samples collected by NASA's Phoenix Lander in 2009 revealed the presence of calcium and magnesium perchlorate, a powerful oxidant.

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"The discovery of significant amounts of different perchlorate salts in Martian soil gives new insight into the Martian 'riverbeds,'" Lorna Dougan, researcher at the University of Leeds, said in a news release.

The average surface temperature on Mars is -55 degrees Celsius.

"Water itself cannot exist as a liquid on Mars, but concentrated solutions of perchlorate could survive these low temperatures," Dougan said.

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Dougan and her colleagues conduct a variety of experiments and ran computer models to determine what the structure of mimetic Martian water would look like. Their analysis -- detailed this week in the journal Nature Communications -- proved perchlorate has a dramatic impact on water's structure.

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The addition of perchlorate has the effect of subjecting water molecules to 2 billion pascals or more of pressure. As a result of the intense pressure, ions in the solution become partially segregated. Scientists hypothesize that this segregation prevents the solution from freezing.

"The magnesium perchlorate is clearly a major contributing factor on the freezing point of this solution and paves the way for understanding how a fluid might exist under the sub-freezing conditions of Mars," Dougan said.

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What's more, if there is life on Mars, the latest research suggests scientists should look for organisms uniquely adapted to high-pressure environments -- such as microbes found deep in Earth's oceans.

"This highlights the importance of studying life in extreme environments in both terrestrial and non-terrestrial environments so that we can fully understand the natural limits of life," Dougan said.

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