It might look as dry and arid as a desert, but scientists claim that Mars has a surprisingly high amount of moisture in its atmosphere, leading some experts to ponder whether or not the Red Planet could actually be humid enough to support life.
According to Space.com, the atmospheric moisture on Mars would be especially conducive to life if the water condenses during the early morning hours, forming short-lived puddles on the planet’s surface. This could theoretically make it possible for the planet’s apparently extremely harsh conditions to support living organisms, even without liquid surface water.
East Carolina University biology professor John Rummel, an astrobiology expert who previously worked with NASA, told the website via email that “the conditions on Mars, where the relative humidity is high and the available water vapor is approximately 100 precipitable microns, is the equivalent of the drier parts of the Atacama Desert in Chile.”
Rummel added there were several “special regions,” or zones where terrestrial organisms are likely to replicate on the Red Planet during a discussion at the Astrobiology Science Conference in Chicago last month. Those regions are “interpreted to have high potential for the existence of extant Martian life forms,” according to report.
Life here on Earth requires liquid surface water, but even though there is evidence that Mars was once home to liquid H2O, it currently has very little. The air is a different story, as Rummel said that nighttime relative humidity levels can reach as high as 80 to 100 percent.
Earth is home to some types of organisms, including lichens that can survive in arid regions by taking water directly from humid air. In fact, the website explains that some lichens are capable of photosynthesizing when relative humidity levels are as low as 70 percent. Studies indicate that one type of Antarctic lichen can adapt to life under simulated Martian conditions.
However, scientists have yet to discover a terrestrial lifeform that can reproduce under conditions where there is no liquid water, only humidity. Rummel said this doesn’t necessarily prohibit an organism from surviving on Mars. He told Space.com that falling nighttime temperatures may cause water to condense into ice or snow, which would then melt as temperature warm up in the early morning hours. This process could take a few minutes or several hours.
“Such short-term wet periods might be long enough and warm enough to allow for Earth organisms to metabolize and even reproduce,” he said. However, dry conditions aren’t the only thing prohibiting life from living on Mars, the website said – the lack of a global magnetic field, thin atmosphere and radiation levels could force lichen-like organisms underground.