Is There Life On Mars
And Why Can’t NASA Find It?
With all the news about water being found on Mars, when (oh, when) will NASA find evidence of life there? Why has NASA, seemingly, not come up with a definitive result that says once and for all, Yea or Ney to the question? What’s taking so long???
The discovery last week of water ice just under the surface of Mars has researchers buzzing, given that water is a key ingredient for life. The finding, by the Phoenix Mars Lander, is the most recent hint that the Red Planet might be habitable to microbes.
But in the parlance of treasure hunters in the movie “National Treasure,” this looks a lot like just another clue that will lead to other clues, and still more clues. The big question still hangs over NASA: Is there life on Mars? And just as important: Can NASA ever find the evidence for it?
And Jeremy Hsu answers.
NASA has long taken an incremental approach to searching for biology, with “follow the water” as a driving strategy. That means, perhaps to the frustration of some, that the current Phoenix lander mission and the twin rovers on Mars are not even designed to detect Martian life.
Frustrating, isn’t it? It seems odd that, if a little green Martian came up and bit Spirit on the nose, NASA wouldn’t have a clue what happened.
The problem is, of course, that no LGM is going to do that. And the microbes that might be there (and have an infinitely greater chance of existing there than any LGM) are hard to distinguish from – dust. That’s especially true if all we have left are the by-products of life long gone.
[T]he melting and refreezing of water could also erase records of previous life or organic material, scientists say. That presents a dilemma between searching for existing life versus past life.
Clearly, finding life on Mars (or, of equal scientific import, the complete lack of life) is not easy. It would be, in fact, one of the most important discoveries since fire. There are things that might make the search easy, however – shortcuts of sorts.
[S]cientists have also examined gullies where liquid water may have bubbled up recently in the planet’s history. Finding an active hot spring could lead to finding life similar to extremophile bacteria that can thrive under intense conditions.
“Hot springs are at the top of my list,” said Bruce Jakosky, a geologist at the University of Colorado who has worked on Mars missions. “Organisms might not survive and thrive on the surface, but recently exposed hot springs might bring something up from beneath.”
That’s why Phoenix is near the North Pole of Mars – we’re trying to look in places where the conditions are most favorable, not for life, but for us to find it.
The questions we should ask the moment life is recognized, are things like “Is the biology like ours? – Did it come come the Earth, or did life on Earth possibly come from Mars or did it come about independently” and “Did life in this solar system come from outside the solar system?”
Always more questions than answers.