Origin of Life on Mars: Suitability and Opportunities

WashU affiliated authors: Scott J. VanBommel (Dept. of Earth and Planetary Sciences)

Abstract: Although the habitability of early Mars is now well established, its suitability for conditions favorable to an independent origin of life (OoL) has been less certain. With continued exploration, evidence has mounted for a widespread diversity of physical and chemical conditions on Mars that mimic those variously hypothesized as settings in which life first arose on Earth. Mars has also provided water, energy sources, CHNOPS elements, critical catalytic transition metal elements, as well as B, Mg, Ca, Na and K, all of which are elements associated with life as we know it. With its highly favorable sulfur abundance and land/ocean ratio, early wet Mars remains a prime candidate for its own OoL, in many respects superior to Earth. The relatively well-preserved ancient surface of planet Mars helps inform the range of possible analogous conditions during the now-obliterated history of early Earth. Continued exploration of Mars also contributes to the understanding of the opportunities for settings enabling an OoL on exoplanets. Favoring geochemical sediment samples for eventual return to Earth will enhance assessments of the likelihood of a Martian OoL.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/life11060539