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Description of Niche


Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System; about 230 million kilometers from the Sun. A Martian year is about 687 days, while a Martian year is about 24.5 hours. It's surface area is almost 145 million kilometers. From Earth, this 4.6 billion years old planet appears a bright reddish-range color due to the high iron content in the (Herman; Wikipedia "Mars") The speculative Mars niche is relatively harsh with varying extreme conditions. The atmosphere is cold, dry, and desolate. The average temperature is -63 deg C. However, depending on the location, the temperature ranges from a low of -143 degrees C at the polar ice caps during the winter to a high of 27 deg C at the lower latitudes during the summer. The atmosphere of Mars has an air pressure that is less than 1% of Earth's atmosphere making it incapable of keeping heat at its surface and is one of the main reasons for the cooler temperatures, as well as the wide gap between the high and low temperatures.

Liquid water is primary necessity for life to occur on Mars. As of yet, there has not been any signs of long-term liquid water on the surface of present day Mars; however there is water in other forms, such as polar ice, permafrost, and small amounts of water vapor in the atmosphere. Liquid water is not likely to be found on the surface due to the low atmospheric pressure but under certain conditions, liquid water can theoretically exist. At the low altitudes of Mars the atmospheric pressure increases in some instances to where water can exist in the liquid phase. Surface temperature also determines the water phase. During the day, the temperature rises to a point where water can subsist, but at night, the temperature drops to below freezing. Lastly, the salinity of the water would be substantial due to the elemental composition of the soil, which contains magnesium, sodium, potassium, and chloride. The salinity of the water would cause the melting point to lower allowing there to be liquid water at lower than normal temperatures. Theoretically, to find water, the most ideal place to look would be in an area of low altitude during the day.

Mars was a much more habitable planet 3.5 billion years ago, with water covering much of the surface as oceans lakes and rivers, scientists believe. If this theory holds true, there would be a much higher probability of life existing at some point in Martian history. To determine the possibility of life ever existing on Mars, we would need to investigate salt or mineral deposits deep under the surface, which would be protected from damaging cosmic rays.

Physical Conditions

What are the conditions in your niche? Temperature, pressure, pH, moisture, etc.

Hydrogen radicals are produced in the Martian atmosphere by the photolysis of water vapour and subsequently initiate catalytic cycles that recycle carbon dioxide from its photolysis product carbon monoxide. These processes provide a qualitative explanation for the stability of the atmosphere of Mars, which contains 95 per cent carbon dioxide. Balancing carbon dioxide production and loss based on our current understanding of the gas-phase chemistry in the martian atmosphere has, however, proven to be difficult. Interactions between gaseous chemical species and ice cloud particles have been shown to be key factors in the loss of polar ozone observed in the Earth's stratosphere, and may significantly perturb the chemistry of the Earth's upper troposphere. Water-ice clouds are also commonly observed in the atmosphere of Mars and it has been suggested previously that heterogeneous chemistry could have an important impact on the composition of the Martian atmosphere. Here we use a state-of-the-art general circulation model together with new observations of the martian ozone layer to show that model simulations that include chemical reactions occurring on ice clouds lead to much improved quantitative agreement with observed martian ozone levels in comparison with model simulations based on gas-phase chemistry alone. Ozone is readily destroyed by hydrogen radicals and is therefore a sensitive tracer of the chemistry that regulates the atmosphere of Mars. Our results suggest that heterogeneous chemistry on ice clouds plays an important role in controlling the stability and composition of the martian atmosphere.

[*]Nature. 2008 Aug 21;454(7207):971-5.

Pressure ~600Pa (6 mbar)

Temperature -123°C to 25°C

UV Radiation (200nm - 400nm) 8.4 - 67 W/m²

Chemically oxidizing, as well as high salinity

[*]Astrobiology. 2006[6], November 2, 2006 [Diaz et al]

           Compare to Earth’s climate, atmosphere, etc.

The factors governing the amounts of CO, O2, and O3 in the martian atmosphere are investigated using a minimally constrained, one-dimensional photochemical model. We find that the incorporation of temperature-dependent CO2 absorption cross sections leads to an enhancement in the water photolysis rate, increasing the abundance of OH radicals to the point where the model CO abundance is smaller than observed. Good agreement between models and observations of CO, O2, O3, and the escape flux of atomic hydrogen can be achieved, using only gas-phase chemistry, by varying the recommended rate constants for the reactions CO + OH and OH + HO2 within their specified uncertainties. Similar revisions have been suggested to resolve discrepancies between models and observations of the terrestrial mesosphere. The oxygen escape flux plays a key role in the oxygen budget on Mars; as inferred from the observed atomic hydrogen escape, it is much larger than recent calculations of the exospheric escape rate for oxygen. Weathering of the surface may account for the imbalance. Quantification of the escape rates of oxygen and hydrogen from Mars is a worthwhile objective for an upcoming martian upper atmospheric mission. We also consider the possibility that HOx radicals may be catalytically destroyed on dust grains suspended in the atmosphere. Good agreement with the observed CO mixing ratio can be achieved via this mechanism, but the resulting ozone column is much higher than the observed quantity. We feel that there is no need at this time to invoke heterogeneous processes to reconcile models and observations.

[*]Icarus. 1994 Sep;111(1):124-50.

           Mars before; mars after

Individual Regions:

           Polar Caps (ice veins, etc.) / Permafrost
           Underneath the Soil (potentially water, etc.)
                       A habitat beneath the soil poses a particularly attractive option for a number of reasons:

1. As discussed in [Diaz et al, Astrobiology 11/06], both E. Coli & D. radiodurans viability in simulated Martian conditions (pressure, UV exposure, & temperature) improved dramatically when "protected in a microhabitat 5cm beneath the surface" (or in liquid water). The conditions "at or near" the surface, namely, the dessication stress (due to the extremely low pressure), and UV radiation make survival at the surface highly improbable.

2. Evidence of subsurface water article(s)

           One other place – maybe surface?
   The surface is unlikely to yield a hospitable environment for a number of reasons. First and foremost, water cannot exist in liquid form at the surface, due to the extremely low     pressure. While many of Mars' unconventional environments may still allow some type of living organism to exist, the absence of liquid water is an almost universally limiting factor.     Furthermore, life on the surface is additionally complicated by the barrage of solar radiation. Radiation damage is particularly harmful to DNA & RNA, and organisms that could survive     on the surface would need to have DNA-protective mechanisms in place.

Conditions under which the environment changes

Do any of the physical conditions change? Are there chemicals, other organisms, nutrients, etc. that might change the community of your niche.

           Solar Winds
           Radiation (no magnetosphere)
           Meteorite Impact
           Human Involvement

Who lives there?

       Who may have lived there before?

Halobacterium Halobium would be one of the leading candidates to survive Martian conditions. It's a facultatitve anaerobe that uses photosynthesis for energy production?. It thrives in extremely saline solutions, and can hide in salt deposits when the water freezes or evaporates. Halobium can then re-enter water if it ever reappears, allowing it to survive a daily change in water phases. Being dormant in the salt crystals also serves the purpose of protecting the microbe from the Sun's UV radiation. The opaque characteristics of the salt crusts block the shorter wavelengths below 200 nm. The longer UV wavelengths are blocked by rhodopsinlike pigments produced within the microbe. If conditions are unfavorable, Halobium can travel by wind gusts to other locations thousands of miles away, which could be better suited to its survival.

       Who may live there now?

The relatively recent discoveries that liquid water likely existed on the surface of past Mars and that methane currently exists in the martian atmosphere have fueled the possibility of extant or extinct life on Mars. One possible explanation for the existence of the methane would be the presence of methanogens in the subsurface. Methanogens are microorganisms in the domain Archaea that can metabolize molecular hydrogen as an energy source and carbon dioxide as a carbon source and produce methane. One factor of importance is the arid nature of Mars, at least at the surface. If one is to assume that life exists below the surface, then based on the only example of life that we know, liquid water must be present. Realistically, however, that liquid water may be seasonal just as it is at some locations on our home planet. Here we report on research designed to determine how long certain species of methanogens can survive desiccation on a Mars soil simulant, JSC Mars-1. Methanogenic cells were grown on JSC Mars-1, transferred to a desiccator within a Coy anaerobic environmental chamber, and maintained there for varying time periods. Following removal from the desiccator and rehydration, gas chromatographic measurements of methane indicated survival for varying time periods. Methanosarcina barkeri survived desiccation for 10 days, while Methanobacterium formicicum and Methanothermobacter wolfeii were able to survive for 25 days.

[*]Astrobiology. 2006 Aug;6(4):546-51.

Currently, the surface of Mars is probably too cold, too dry, and too oxidizing for life, as we know it, to exist. But the subsurface is another matter. Life forms that might exist below the surface could not obtain their energy from photosynthesis, but rather they would have to utilize chemical energy. Methanogens are one type of microorganism that might be able to survive below the surface of Mars. A potential habitat for existence of methanogens on Mars might be a geothermal source of hydrogen, possibly due to volcanic or hydrothermal activity, or the reaction of basalt and anaerobic water, carbon dioxide, which is abundant in the martian atmosphere, and of course, subsurface liquid water. We report here that certain methanogens can grow on a Mars soil simulant when supplied with carbon dioxide, molecular hydrogen, and varying amounts of water.

[*]Orig Life Evol Biosph. 2004 Dec;34(6):615-26.

Methane trapped in the 3,053-m-deep Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2 ice core provides an important record of millennial-scale climate change over the last 110,000 yr. However, at several depths in the lowest 90 m of the ice core, the methane concentration is up to an order of magnitude higher than at other depths. At those depths we have discovered methanogenic archaea, the in situ metabolism of which accounts for the excess methane. The total concentration of all types of microbes we measured with direct counts of Syto-23-stained cells tracks the excess of methanogens that we identified by their F420 autofluorescence and provides independent evidence for anomalous layers. The metabolic rate we estimated for microbes at those depths is consistent with the Arrhenius relation for rates found earlier for microbes imprisoned in rock, sediment, and ice. It is roughly the same as the rate of spontaneous macromolecular damage inferred from laboratory data, suggesting that microbes imprisoned in ice expend metabolic energy mainly to repair damage to DNA and amino acids rather than to grow. Equating the loss rate of methane recently discovered in the Martian atmosphere to the production rate by possible methanogens, we estimate that a possible Martian habitat would be at a temperature of approximately 0 degrees C and that the concentration, if uniformly distributed in a 10-m-thick layer, would be approximately 1 cell per ml.

[*]Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Dec 20;102(51):18292-6. Epub 2005 Dec 7.

       Who may live there in future?

Current Research


[Sample reference] Takai, K., Sugai, A., Itoh, T., and Horikoshi, K. "Palaeococcus ferrophilus gen. nov., sp. nov., a barophilic, hyperthermophilic archaeon from a deep-sea hydrothermal vent chimney". International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. 2000. Volume 50. p. 489-500.

Edited by Hank Hoang, Herman Davidovics, Grigoriy Shekhtman, students of Rachel Larsen