Study shows microbes can survive in Mars’ thin atmosphere

by Sophie Yang, ’19

This January, a study from the Arkansas Center for Space and Planetary Sciences showed that microbes could potentially survive in Mars’ thin atmosphere.

The study, which took about a year to complete, used four different species of bacteria. The bacteria were kept at an atmospheric pressure that was a fraction of Earth’s. Overall, the bacteria survived from three to 21 days — long enough to reproduce.

Rocks and minerals line a landscape of Mars. The atmospheric pressure on Mars is 0.6 percent of the pressure on Earth. Photo courtesy NASA.


According to the study’s lead scientist Rebecca Mickol, there are now new possibilities that life once existed on Mars.

“[The study shows that] for some species, low pressure may not really have any effect on the survival of the organism,” Mickol said.

The team’s study comes after NASA announced in 2015 that liquid groundwater once flowed on Mars’ surface.

“In all the environments we find here on Earth, there is some sort of microorganism in almost all of them,” Mickol said. “It’s hard to believe there aren’t other organisms out there on other planets or moons as well.”

UAHS freshman Karen Snyder finds that although no intelligent life would be found on Mars, the presence of microbial life, now or in the past, is interesting.

“I think the idea that Mars’ atmosphere could support life is cool,” Snyder said. “We don’t know a whole lot for sure, but I am in full support of the scientists working on learning more.”

Now that scientists know microbes can survive in the atmosphere of Mars, the next challenge is to discover if they could withstand frigid Martian temperatures, which can get down to -100 degrees Celsius at night.