Scientists believe a by-product of earthquake-like seismic activity could support life on Mars.
Recent research by an international team of scientists that included Brock University geologist Nigel Blamey suggests that hydrogen gas arising from ‘Marsquakes’ could help sustain life on the Red Planet.
Through their analysis of rocks in Sudbury, Scotland and South Africa, the three-member group found that friction occurring during an earthquake produces hydrogen.
“Seismic activity has been detected on Mars,” says Blamey, assistant professor in the Department of Earth Sciences. “The question was, can earthquakes on Earth and Mars have anything to do with hydrogen generation, which could then act as an energy source for bacteria? The answer is yes.”
The team analyzed a terrestrial type of veiny, glassy rock called pseudotachylite typically found at sites where meteorites have hit the earth. The pseudotachylite is formed when rocks are broken, crushed and melted.
Friction arising from the rocks moving against one another produces hydrogen gas. In their rock samples, the team found pockets of hydrogen trapped in the rocks.
What the scientists found in Scotland “is a model that could apply to any other rocky planet and on Mars there are so-called ‘Marsquakes’ that may produce hydrogen and therefore could feed life in the Martian sub-surface,” John Parnell, from the University of Aberdeen’s School of Geosciences, said in an interview with the BBC.
“Conservative estimates of current seismic activity on Mars predict hydrogen generation that would be useful to microbes, which adds strength to the possibility of suitable habitats that could support life in the Martian sub-surface,” he said.
In the early stages of the research, Brock University’s Blamey collected pseudotachylite samples from Creighton Granite near the Sudbury Crater. He also analyzed samples from two sites in Scotland and one in Vredefort, South Africa.
Blamey says the group’s findings may help Martian scientists target favourable sites on Mars for drilling rock samples, which they can examine for the presence of trapped hydrogen.
Next May, NASA plans to launch its Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission to study the deep interior of Mars as a way of understanding how rocky planets – including Earth – formed and evolved.
The research team’s paper, Evidence for Seismogenic Hydrogen Gas, a Potential Microbial Energy Source on Earth and Mars is published in the September 2016 issue of the journal Astrobiology.