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Given that there are no organisms on other planets/moons, if we bury a dead human (or other organisms), will it decay? I think the body will be intact as on earth there are several organisms/micro organisms that help in decaying. Is my understanding correct?

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    $\begingroup$ This greatly depends on which planet you have in mind. On Mars you'd likely expect mummification through freezing and loss of water through sublimation. On Venus this would obviously be something else entirely. Or on Mercury, moons of Jupiter, Saturn,... So I'd say the question is too broad. Please edit to narrow it to manageable scope. Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – TildalWave
    Oct 21, 2014 at 22:56
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    $\begingroup$ Related Decay of a corpse in space? $\endgroup$ Oct 22, 2014 at 12:56
  • $\begingroup$ Also (almost) related: What will be the effect if we stand on Jupiter? $\endgroup$
    – TildalWave
    Oct 22, 2014 at 18:38
  • $\begingroup$ Because this is too broad, I want to ask this question for every planet and moon. Would that be wrong? Maybe I'll start with individual questions for the Mars, then the Moon. $\endgroup$
    – Scott
    Oct 23, 2014 at 19:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Scott No it wouldn't be but please not all at once (so we avoid needless duplication, some places would still be fairly similar to each other in this respect), make sure they're not vague (explain what you have in mind and do some basic research, also try to present questions in a way that would appeal to our members, i.e. mention how it's relevant to Space Exploration and its scope,...), or too broad (be specific). E.g. this might be relevant to more than merely running interplanetary funeral services, say in a context of fossil preservation. Also, you might wanna ask about the idea on Space Exploration Meta. ;) $\endgroup$
    – TildalWave
    Oct 23, 2014 at 20:35

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This could be off-topic here, but I have an answer, so I might as well post it.

Yes and No

According to Wikipedia, decomposition occurs due to two factors: the body's own chemicals and the effects of bacteria.

Autolysis

Autolysis is the process of a bit of organic matter breaking itself down. The lysosomes in a cell use digestive enzymes that normally would break down food to inadvertently eat away at the cell. These proteins slowly start to destroy the organelles inside each cell. Eventually, this effects the entire body.

Putrefaction

You might be more familiar with putrefaction. This is the process bacteria use to break down proteins in the body's tissue and get energy from it. Fungi also contribute. together, these organisms decompose organic matter, absorbing the nutrients for themselves.


So, would this happen on another planet? Well, autolysis might. After all, the body's chemicals are still there. True, the vacuum of space (if the planet lacks an atmosphere) could cause some damaging effects, but perhaps the body would be okay and decompose. Putrefaction, on the other hand, might not happen. Unless extraterrestrial bacteria or other organisms exist to bite away at the tissue, there will be nothing there to aid in putrefaction.

There's always the chance that the environment will act like a peat bog and preserve the body, but to date, no subjects have volunteered to test this hypothesis.

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  • $\begingroup$ Also, plain evaporation of moisture. We can assume mummification in airless environments. Of course on Venus the body would be dissolved in the acidic rains; on Mercury it would gradually evaporate due to heat. On Jupiter it would get squeezed into a minuscule sphere... $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Oct 22, 2014 at 9:02
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    $\begingroup$ Is the late lamented entirely free of personal bacteria? Skin, GI tract? $\endgroup$
    – DJohnM
    Oct 23, 2014 at 0:12
  • $\begingroup$ @User58220 Fair point, but there aren't as many bacteria as there would be if the body was decaying naturally. They real problem is that these bacteria sort of need the human alive in order for them to stay alive. Not all of them are decomposers. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Oct 23, 2014 at 0:15
  • $\begingroup$ There is now this: astronomy.com/news/2016/10/… I wish the OP was willing to adjust the question a little bit, or I wonder if it could be re-opened and someone could edit it a bit? $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Oct 26, 2016 at 8:00
  • $\begingroup$ if there were bacteria on the other planet, it wouldn't know how to digest our proteins- it took fungi 60 million years to figure out how to digest wood $\endgroup$
    – R. Hall
    Nov 20, 2020 at 5:25

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