NASA Finds Possibility for Life on Mars: Underground Lake

First Posted: Jan 21, 2013 08:48 AM EST

Life on Mars may not be as farfetched as we once thought. NASA has photographed a huge crater on Mars which hints that water may lurk in crevices under the planet's surface. It raises the possibility that life may once have been present- and may still be there.

This new discovery came from the observation of several images that were taken by NASA's powerful Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. They revealed new evidence of a wet underground environment on the planet. The orbiter focused on the McLaughlin Crater, a massive feature that stretches about 57 miles. The crater is so deep that scientists suspect that water flowed into the bottom of it in the distant past, creating a lake.

The crater is currently dry, but it does possess clay minerals and other evidence that hints that in the past, it once held water. Mars has less gravity than Earth and its surface is more porous, which means that water can leak underground more easily. Since Mars possesses such an inhospitable environment for life as we know it -extremely cold, arid, and chemically hostile- scientists believe that the most likely place for life on the planet would have been underground.

Even so, that doesn't mean that life on the Red Planet would be anything remotely complex. On Earth, life that lives up to three miles underground in water makes up some of the most primitive kinds of microbes known.

Currently, scientists have no way to drill underground to check their theory. However, they can still analyze rocks that have been revealed via erosion to gather some clue as to whether or not there is water -and life- beneath the surface of Mars.

The findings are detailed online in the journal Nature Geoscience.

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