Shock experiments in support of the Lithopanspermia theory: The influence of host rock composition, temperature, and shock pressure on the survival rate of endolithic and epilithic microorganisms
Shock recovery experiments were performed with an explosive set-up in which three types of microorganisms embedded in various types of host rocks were exposed to strong shock waves with pressure pulse lengths of lower than 0.5s: spores of the bacterium Bacillus subtilis, Xanthoria elegans lichens, and cells of the cyanobacterium Chroococcidiopsis sp. 029. In these experiments, three fundamental parameters were systematically varied (1) shock pressures ranging from 5 to 50GPa, (2) preshock ambient temperature of 293, 233 and 193K, and (3) the type of host rock, including nonporous igneous rocks (gabbro and dunite as analogs for the Martian shergottites and chassignites, respectively), porous sandstone, rock salt (halite), and a clay-rich mineral mixture as porous analogs for dry and water-saturated Martian regolith. The results show that the three parameters have a strong influence on the survival rates of the microorganisms. The most favorable conditions for the impact ejection from Mars for microorganisms would be (1) low porosity host rocks, (2) pressures <10-20GPa, and (3) low ambient temperature of target rocks during impact. All tested microorganisms were capable of surviving to a certain extent impact ejection in different geological materials under distinct conditions.