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

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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.

OriginalsprogEngelsk
TidsskriftAstrobiology
Vol/bind19
Nummer4
Antal sider9
ISSN1531-1074
DOI
StatusUdgivet - 2019

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