Welcome to Mars

Scientists say some microbes from Earth could survive on Mars, at least temporarily, raising new problems and possibilities for future exploration of the red planet.

Researchers from NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) sent certain microbes into Earth's stratosphere, where conditions are strikingly similar to those at the surface of Mars.

The results, published today in the journal Science, show that some of the organisms on Earth survive in extremely vulnerable conditions in the stratosphere.

But what happens when the environment around the microbes changes wildly—in this case, when the microbes were released indoors and hit with ultraviolet rays from rocket engines at the DLR Aerospace Technology Center?

"The microbes that were released on Earth onto Martian soil are representative of whatever organisms we would find on Mars," said Dr. Johannes Körner, one of the lead researchers. "There is still a chance that the organisms could survive because of their unusual microenvironment, but I am not certain."

Depositing on Mars

If the experiments confirmed that some organisms do survive, that would open up a whole host of tantalizing possibilities for future missions to Mars.

"Multiple spacecraft will be built to extract the microbes from space, and test the various complex reactions that might occur and their implications," SAIF spokesman Dr. Reinhard Höger told The Christian Science Monitor.

Accessible Before Neutron Star Bursts

Europe's HIV-1A Neutron Star Burst, caused by a single massive star exploding, destroyed more than 30 billion people in Earth's history. However, the meteors also produced a high quantity of Cherenkov radiation, a particular type of radiation which renders electrons in water, Höger said.

Using laser technology, scientists "exposed" one set of microbes to Cherenkov radiation from the meteoroid, and another set was exposed to the energy of the ionized Cherenkov radiation.

"It appeared that the second set of organisms were more resistant to radiation than the first," Dr. Höger said. "Also, the second set seemed to exist at higher temperatures than the first."

Going further, Dr. Körner's team is seeking ways to transfer heat from Earth to Mars.

Are they already there?

In fact, perhaps not.

"We... may find that some organisms are already there, but can be destroyed," Körner said. There is still all manner of speculation to be handled before we can understand this fully.

The implications are great, too.


The simplest function of a cell must be supplying energy. The prevailing hypothesis is that the biosphere of Mars exists on a much more primitive level than the biosphere on Earth.

The spacecraft could be broadcast from Earth to