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Life on Mars might exist -- under the surface

Oxygen found in rocks and underwater lakes lead scientists to believe there could be some level of subsurface life.

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NASA/JPL

Deep breath: There's oxygen on Mars.

It's just not readily breathable on the surface, and according to a Jet Propulsion Laboratory-led team's findings published in Nature Geoscience on Monday, there's the possibility of subsurface life on Mars.

The team looked at the Curiosity rover's 2016 discovery of heavily-oxidised rocks on Mars, and discoveries by researchers of underground lakes of briny water suggesting H20 is possibly still flowing on Mars today. The combination of oxygen in rocks and the potential for oxygen in subsurface reservoirs gave the scientists reason to believe some level of life could be sustained on a subsurface level.

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"We found something very surprising: Many brines can exist in different places on Mars," Vlada Stamenkovic, a JPL scientist and lead author on the paper, told Popular Mechanics. "They fully suffice to allow the aerobic breathing for microbes and even sponges, which are the simplest animals."

The findings suggest looking at the underground brine lakes could be the best place to search for such life.

"Oxygen matters for Mars more than we ever dreamt of, and it allows a new way of looking at life on Mars," Stamenkovic said.

For more, head to Nature Geoscience.