Wind-Driven Saltation: An Overlooked Challenge for Life on Mars

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DOI

    E. N. Bak, M. G. Larsen,
  • S. K. Jensen
  • P. Nornberg
  • R. Moeller, German Aerosp Ctr DLR eV, Helmholtz Association, German Aerospace Centre (DLR), Space Microbiol Res Grp, Radiat Biol Dept, Inst Aerosp Med,
  • K. Finster

Numerous studies have demonstrated that the martian surface environment is hostile to life because of its rough radiation climate and the reactive chemistry of the regolith. Physical processes such as erosion and transport of mineral particles by wind-driven saltation have hitherto not been considered as a life hazard. We report a series of experiments where bacterial endospores (spores of Bacillus subtilis) were exposed to a simulated saltating martian environment. We observed that 50% of the spores that are known to be highly resistant to radiation and oxidizing chemicals were destroyed by saltation-mediated abrasion within one minute. Scanning electron micrographs show that the spores were not only damaged by abrasion but were eradicated during the saltation process. We suggest that abrasion mediated by wind-driven saltation should be included as a factor that defines the habitability of the martian surface environment. The process may efficiently protect the martian surface from forward contamination with terrestrial microbial life-forms. Abrasion mediated by wind-driven saltation should also be considered as a major challenge to indigenous martian surface life if it exists/existed.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAstrobiology
Volume19
Issue number4
Number of pages9
ISSN1531-1074
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019

    Research areas

  • Habitability, Erosion, Spores, Forward contamination, Saltation, Microorganisms, BACILLUS-SUBTILIS SPORES, ASSEMBLY CLEAN ROOMS, MARTIAN DUST DEVILS, DEINOCOCCUS-RADIODURANS, SPACECRAFT SURFACES, OXIDANT ENHANCEMENT, IONIZING-RADIATION, HYDROGEN-PEROXIDE, UV-RADIATION, RESISTANCE

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