When we think about life on Mars, we don't typically imagine that it will be life that we (accidentally) brought there. But a trio of new studies looks at the possibility of how some bacteria from Earth could be able to survive — perhaps even thrive — on Mars.

The three studies, all published in Astrobiology by NASA JPL's Kasthuri J. Venkateswaran, focus on not just how the bacteria might make it to Mars, but also what would happen to it once it arrived.

There are, of course, protocols designed to keep spacecraft clear of contaminants. The problem, though, might be bacterial spores, which can be exceptionally hardy. While exposure to harsh elements and UV radiation on Mars might kill many of them, some could still survive.


In a simulated Martian environment (as provided by the European Technology Exposure Facility on the ISS), some spores in the studywere able to survive at 18 months — and, incredibly some had become even hardier than we they arrived.Said Venkateswaran: “These surviving spores had higher concentrations of proteins associated with UV radiation resistance and, in fact, showed elevated UV resistance when revived and re-exposed on Earth."

You can check out all three studies in Astrobiology here, here, and here or read more from NASA here.


Image: artist's conception of an astronaut gathering samples on Mars / NASA