Say it Ain't So: Mars' Ancient Seas Were Dead?

Time for a little reality check. It seems like almost every day there's a piece of news about how "research suggests there were once oceans floating in the vacuum of space!" or "life could have once existed at the center of the Sun!" You know, we all get a little over-excited sometimes. Well, geochemist Nicholas Tosca of Harvard University put a damper on our enthusiasm yesterday when he calculated that early oceans on Mars were between 10 and 100 times more salty than seawater here on Earth. Even worse, they were probably highly acidic. But pro-Mars life scientists aren't giving up without a fight, After the break, some hopeful scientists speak out on why following Mars' ancient water supply could still lead us to the aliens.

Tosca's calculations paint a picture of ancient Mars that'd be a nasty place for young life to try and grow up in, but not all researchers are throwing in the towel yet. From yesterday's ScienceNOW article:

"Tosca et al. are making some very good points," writes planetary geochemist Jeffrey Kargel of the University of Arizona, Tucson, in an e-mail, but "they carry it too far." Perhaps early exploration has been drawn to the most saline and therefore most obvious sites, he writes, missing more hospitable places. Microbiologist Kenneth Nealson of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles also holds out hope for life. Faced with greater challenges, martian life may have evolved even better ways to cope with salty water than Earth's microbes have devised. "Keep on following the water" is the message, say these optimists—and the Phoenix lander is doing just that. Within weeks, it will be analyzing far younger and presumably far fresher water in the martian arctic.
Kargel and Nelson may be waving the ET flag out of fear of losing funding for their research more than anything else, but what the hell? With the Phoenix lander getting ready to start digging into the Martian permafrost any day now, how could you not hope just a little bit that it'll turn up evidence of Martian life? I bet even Tosca's keeping his fingers crossed.

Source: Science