Possible Habitats for Life on Mars

Present theories about life on Mars suggest that if it exists it will be microbial in nature and most probably nano-bacterial or archaean.  There is almost no credence given to any ideas that Martian life will be any more complex than this.  Good evidence that perhaps Martian life exists or at least, exited a long time ago has come from analysis of Martian meteorites, as well as the detailed examinations of the planet that have been carried out by the series of spacecraft that have visited.

Potentially, Mars offers some suitable habitats for extremophile life.  In addition, there are numerous places where life may at one time have been able to flourish.  Such places include:

  • Hot springs
  • Dry lake beds
  • Volcanic vents
  • River valleys
  • Ocean basins
For more information about the martian landscape visit the the Mars geology page.  But now let us take a closer look at some of these particular locations.


Hot springs
Olympus Mons is the largest volcano in the Solar System.  On its south slope orbiting spacecraft have found a hot-spot, that may indicate the presence of a hot water springs.  This may now be dry, but perhaps in the past it was active.

Dry lake beds

Gustav crater resembles a dry lake bed.  In this view a canyon on its south side has been identified as a place where water has collect.  It is dry now by in the past such a place may have supported life.

Volcanic vents
Large volcanoes are present on Mars, but all these are inactive, and have been for a long time.  On Earth microbes have been found associated with undersea volcanic vents.  Similar structure may exist on Mars, but again they may be long extinct.  That does not rule out the possibility of finding fossils or even dormant microbes in such structures.  On Earth these structures are comparatively small and the same may be true of Mars.  No definite identification of such structures have so far been found, but they may show up, as the high resolution images from the current and future missions are analyzed.  This image shows Arsia Mons.

River valleys
Mars southern hemisphere is deeply scarred with meteorite craters, but in the region of the Dao Vallis, a river system can be clearly seen.  This would be an ideal area to search for fossils.

Ocean basins
Ocean basins were identified on Mars at a very early stage in its exploration.  Now, however, some doubt has been raised about the permanence of these features on Mars.  Close up images of supposed shorelines and cliff erosion reveal no such features.  Water however certainly flowed across the surface of Mars and formed the dry floors we see in the northern latitudes.  These now look to have been short lived incidents, with the water quickly evaporating to space or sinking into the ground as permafrost.

There is one place however, where something more permanent may have existed, and that is in the bottom of the Valles Marineris, the great rift in Mars' surface.  Here a small ocean may just have existed for something more than a fleeting moment in Mars history.


Exploring Mars - geology

Life on Mars I

Life on Mars II

Life on Mars III

Hot springs on Mars

The case for liquid water on Mars

Alkaline Hyper saline Lakes as Analogs for Ancient Microbial Habitats on Mars

Mars -- Martians

Biological Potential of Mars

Mars Exploration

Teachers Wormhole


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