Artist’s conception of the Mars Phoenix lander, which found perchlorate on the Red Planet in 2008. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Life as we know it requires energy of some sort to survive and thrive. For plants, that source of energy is the Sun. But there are some microbes that can survive using energy from chemical reactions. Some of them even eat salts, such as perchlorates.

Perchlorate (ClO4-) is a highly oxidized form of chlorine. Perchlorate salts are found not only on Earth, but also on Mars. They’re highly toxic to humans but are useful for components such as rocket fuel.

It was good news for future Martian explorers when in 2008 an instrument on the Mars Phoenix polar lander discovered evidence of perchlorate in a flat valley informally called “Green Valley.” Four years later, the new NASA Curiosity rover uncovered more of the substance near the equator.

Now, there’s stronger evidence that the salt is widespread. New research shows that a martian meteorite recovered on Earth has perchlorate in it as well as other salts, namely chlorate and nitrate.

“We analyzed it and didn’t know what to expect,” said lead author Samuel Kounaves, a chemistry professor at Tufts University in Massachusetts. “We found perchlorate, not so high as on Mars, but at a well detectable level.”

Learning about salts on Mars also leads to related questions about organic materials and habitability on the Red Planet in general. While it’s a harsh environment for microbes today, it’s possible that they could survive in protected areas (such as underground), or that they were there in the past when climate conditions may have been warmer and wetter.

– See more at: http://www.astrobio.net/news-exclusive/salty-martian-meteorite-offers-clues-habitability/?#sthash.eYqE3dhD.dpuf

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By Elizabeth Howell @ AstroBio.net

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