A team of astronomers and planetary scientists led by Jesse Tarnas of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory presented a new study. It proves that radiolysis could have sustained microbial life in the bowels of Mars for millions of years.

Deep underground, radioactive elements destroy water molecules, producing ingredients that can fuel underground life. This process, known as radiolysis, has kept bacteria in isolated, water-filled cracks and pores in rocks on Earth for millions to billions of years. In a study published in Astrobiology, the scientists published their findings.

Dust storms, cosmic rays and solar winds ravage the surface of the Red Planet. But underground, some life can take refuge. “The environment with the greatest chances for a habitat on Mars is the interior,” explains Jesse Tarnas, planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and lead author of the new study. Studying the Martian interior could help scientists find out if life could exist there. The best samples from the depths of the planet that are available to scientists today are Martian meteorites that fell to Earth.

For analysis, scientists have selected samples from theses of the regions of Mars, which are considered the most suitable for life. Meteorites are composed of a rock called regolith breccia. They are believed to originate from the southern highlands of Mars, which is the most ancient landscape on the planet.

The scientists then analyzed the porosity of the Martian crust. For this, data obtained with the help of orbiters and rovers were used. The team then developed a computer model to simulate radiolysis. The obtained and summarized data were entered into this model and several likely scenarios were predicted.

Computer simulations have helped assess how efficiently hydrogen and sulfate gases can be generated in Martian conditions. These chemical ingredients are capable of supporting the metabolism of subsurface bacteria.

The analysis showed that if water were present under the surface of Mars, then radiolysis in its depths is able to maintain microbial communities for billions of years. Moreover, the authors of the discovery do not exclude that such a form of life may be present in the “radiation shelter” on the Red Planet even now.