The Red Planet could support bacteria or even sponges.

Game of Life

The past decade has brought more and more signs that Mars might once have harbored life.

Now, new research shows that the Red Planet could even have enough oxygen to support Martian life now — as long as it lived underground.

Oxygen Z

That's according to a new paper in Nature Geoscience written by a team from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. According to the team's calculations, briny water under the planet's surface could hold enough oxygen to support aerobic Martian life — microbes, according to one author, or even simple animals such as sponges.

"The last 40 years, people didn’t think oxygen would matter at all for life on Mars," lead author Vlada Stamenkovic told Popular Mechanics. "We wanted to change that dogma."

Bug Hunt

It'll be tough to test the paper's conclusions, Popular Mechanics points out, because the Mars rover missions avoid areas where there could be water — they don't want to accidentally taint any life there with rugged bacteria that survived the journey from Earth.

But the findings do suggest that one day we could find out that our solar system is more populated than we once thought.

READ MORE: Mars May Have Enough Oxygen to Sustain Subsurface Life [Popular Mechanics]

More on settling Mars: Scientists Need to Solve These Two Mysteries to Find Life on Mars

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