Recently, there’s been a whole slew of information coming from Mars — a meteorite with organic compounds, findings from Curiosity that increase the likelihood that life once existed on the Red Planet, and now methane emissions that could suggest that life currently exists on Mars. All of that is a lot to wrap one’s mind around, so it’s easy to forget about NASA’s other Mars program — MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN). MAVEN’s goal is to try and obtain information that will help scientists figure out where Mars’ atmosphere went. Recently, NASA released some preliminary information gathered by MAVEN that starts to detail the process by which Mars lost its atmosphere, which likely involves solar wind.
This could be it, folks. The evidence for life on Mars is mounting—it’s still circumstantial at this point, but every new discovery and every tantalizing hint gets us closer to answering the million (billion?) dollar question: did life ever exist on Mars? And the obvious follow up question: does life exist on Mars right now? In addition to the evidence released last week about Gale Crater’s massive lake and the amount of time they now believe Mars was ripe for life, scientists released another new finding involving surprising and fluctuating methane emissions on the Red Planet. Sure, there are a few possible explanations for the methane, but one of them is that it comes from something biological—i.e., Martians. Probably only microbial ones, but still. This is a seriously big deal.
As you might know, Curiosity Rover’s time on Mars has culminated in its journey to Mount Sharp, where it’s been examining rocks and soil buried deep below the mountain’s surface. Mount Sharp is located in Gale Crater, which scientists now know used to have a bunch of lakes, rivers, and deltas, and seems like a pretty good spot to foster some kind of life. But life is tough to find, especially when you’re not exactly sure what you’re looking for. Martian meteorites have been found to contain organic compounds, but scientists still can’t say with certainty that they prove the existence of past life on Mars. So Curiosity keeps looking. One of the best ways scientists know of to hunt for life is by studying methane emissions (one of the gases responsible for the greenhouse effect).
One of the goals of the Curiosity Rover is to try to find evidence indicating whether life ever existed on Mars. Thanks to its work so far, we know that Mars still retains water in its surface soil. Scientists also know that Mars used to be warmer and wetter than it is now. Examinations of meteorites of Martian origin reveal organic compounds, suggesting not only that conditions there were once favorable, but that the planet did indeed harbor life. Now, Curiosity has found additional evidence supporting both of those hypotheses.
In order to determine whether life has ever existed on Mars, scientists have been looking for evidence of three criteria: water, life-supporting elements (carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, phosphorus), and a long enough period of time in which those conditions were present. It’s that last part that has proven problematic, as previous estimates about the amount of time when those conditions existed was in the neighborhood of hundreds of thousands of years—not very long at all when it comes to creating life out of chemical soup.
Crowdfunding is an increasingly popular approach to bankrolling space missions. The U.K. Lunar Mission One Kickstarter campaign is nearing its final week, and Planetary Resource’s Project ARKYD was funded the same way. Thoth Technology has launched an Indiegogo campaign for its Northern Light Mission, which seeks to raise over a million dollars to put a lander and a mini rover on Mars.
Scientists and researchers believe that life on Earth may have come from Mars. We know that something needed to kick start life in the primordial soup that was the newly-formed planet Earth, and no one knows for certain where that initial boost came from. Most scientists, however, believe that that life arrived at Earth courtesy of a meteorite.
One of the possibilities is that such a meteorite came from Mars, as many meteorites do. Of course, suggesting that human life actually started on another planet is a controversial theory, but one that just received a boost due to newly released information gleaned from the analysis of a Martian meteorite.
Tomorrow, NASA plans to launch their newest spacecraft Orion. Since its inception, one of the aims has always been that this could be the vessel that takes humans farther than we’ve ever been before, and the space agency made that official, announcing plans to send a manned mission to Mars in the next few decades.
Science fiction has always had a fascination with walking on the surface of other worlds, and we accomplished that in 1969 when Neil Armstrong became the first person touch down on the moon. Though mechanical feet of various kinds have visited other celestial bodies, no flesh-and-blood human has walked anywhere but Earth since Apollo 17 in 1972.