In original experiments, Bak et al. (Wind-Driven Saltation: An Overlooked Challenge for Life on Mars. Astrobiology 2019;19(4):497-505) suggest a new mechanism for the destruction of spores on Mars: Abrasion by wind-driven saltation. Bak et al. found that the tumbling of spores on grain surfaces (simulating saltation) was, by far, most lethal at the outset of their experiments. They suggest that it may be sharp edges of the freshly crushed basalt particles used in their experiments that destroy the spores and that these edges abrade away over the course of each experiment. But prior Mars analogue experiments, observations of particles from terrestrial deserts, and imaging from Mars landers suggest that most martian dust has been rounded by billions of years of aeolian processes. If so, saltation on Mars is more likely well simulated by the later stages of the Bak et al. experiments, reducing implied lethality by orders of magnitude. Experiments could test this by beginning with particles that had been already abraded. Even assuming the highest lethality found in their experiments, saltation "hop"distances on Mars suggest that abrasion would not prevent ∼1% of released spores from remaining viable while traveling hundreds or even thousands of kilometers.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
- Space and Planetary Science
- Aeolian saltation
- Forward contamination
- Martian habitability