Subscribe to our free daily newsletters
  Space Travel News  




Subscribe to our free daily newsletters



MARSDAILY
A Strategy To Search For Life On Mars

Fairen and his colleagues recommend a new strategy for the next decade of robotic investigations on Mars, one in which the search for extant life is the first priority.
by Charles Q. Choi
for Astrobiology Magazine
Moffett Field CA (SPX) Nov 12, 2010
The first and only attempts to search for life on Mars were the Viking missions launched in 1975. Now scientists are suggesting the next decade of robotic probes sent to the red planet should make the search for life the highest priority.

After the Viking missions, the general consensus was that cold, radiation, hyper-aridity and other environmental factors ruled out the chances for microbial activity on or near the surface of Mars. This assumption - based largely on how Viking's instruments did not detect organic compounds that would have indicated martian life - has been reinforced by each follow-up mission since then.

The Mars Science Laboratory, scheduled for launch in 2011, is dedicated to searching for evidence that the martian environment was once capable of supporting life on the red planet. However, some scientists argue the strategy for Mars exploration should center on the search for life itself - "extant" life that is either active today or is dormant but still alive.

"There is no human task more significant and profound than testing if we are alone or not in the universe, and Mars must be the first place to look, as it is just facing our front yard," said astrobiologist Alberto Fairen at the SETI Institute and NASA Ames Research Center. "Finding life on Mars would be the most important scientific achievement of this century."

The Viking landers had detected organic molecules such as methyl chloride and dichloromethane, but these had been dismissed as terrestrial contamination - namely, cleaning fluids used to prepare the spacecraft when it was still on Earth.

The Phoenix lander spotted magnesium perchlorate in the soils, which can destroy organic residues. This discovery has caused scientists to rethink the Viking assumptions. Because Viking heated its samples, it could have caused a chemical reaction between perchlorate and any organics present, thereby destroying the organics.

The recent detection of methane on Mars has also revived the possibility of past or even extant life just below the surface, since life is one of the primary producers of methane on Earth.

As hostile as Mars might be for life, numerous examples exist of life surviving in extreme environments on Earth. For instance, microbes are seen in cold, dry soils of the Antarctic Dry Valleys. These soils are arranged into a layer of dry permafrost overlying ground ice, a structure similar to some soils on Mars.

Debris-rich ice layers in glaciers trap water films and mineral dust that can serve as a basis for life on Earth, and similar layers are seen at Mars' northern polar deposits.

Microbes even live in salt knobs in the hyper-arid Atacama Desert in Chile, which is often described as similar to martian soils.

These analogs of Mars on Earth suggest there are relatively few areas on Mars that could support life: ice-cemented ground, massive ice deposits and certain porous salts.

"Probes have been sent to regions of Mars where ice-cemented ground is common - this was the case of Phoenix, in the northern plains," Fairen said. "Other environments, such as hundreds of regional accumulations of chloride salts, have been discovered very recently, only three years ago, and are dispersed on the ancient southern highlands.

"In any case, there have been no attempts to analyze any of these environments with modern biological instruments to search for life, extant or extinct."

Fairen and his colleagues recommend a new strategy for the next decade of robotic investigations on Mars, one in which the search for extant life is the first priority.

"We call for a long-term architecture of the Mars Exploration Program that is organized around three main goals in the following order of priority - the search for extant life, the search for past life, and sample return," Fairen said.

The researchers envision probes targeting the kinds of areas where life might be found, and carrying instruments that can provide indisputable evidence - such as actual microbes - for the presence or absence of life.

Robotic missions in search of spores, dormant life or organic remains could, for instance, drill a few yards down to reach ice-rich layers shielded from the high levels of radiation at the surface and use microscopes to examine their finds.

A mission aimed at looking for extant life would also be ideal for finding any extinct life, since dead organisms likely would be found in the same places as live ones would. Since soil bacteria in the Atacama Desert are spread out in a patchy manner, any new missions to search for life on Mars should incorporate a rover. Landers should also be used to return samples, if at all possible.

"The technology is ready," Fairen said. "We only need a new impulse and more ambition."

The scientists detailed their strategy online Oct. 7 in the journal Astrobiology.



Share This Article With Planet Earth
del.icio.usdel.icio.us DiggDigg RedditReddit
YahooMyWebYahooMyWeb GoogleGoogle FacebookFacebook



Related Links
Mars Exploration Program
Mars News and Information at MarsDaily.com
Lunar Dreams and more



Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News


MARSDAILY
Bringing a Bit of Mars Back Home
Moffett Field CA (SPX) Nov 09, 2010
If there is evidence of life on Mars, it will be found in the planet's rocks. And as most scientists who study Mars will tell you, the best way to learn about martian rocks is to bring a few back to Earth. NASA has long had plans for a sample-return mission to Mars. In the 1990s such a mission was on the agency's active to-do list, with sample return planned to occur as early as 2008. ... read more







MARSDAILY
NASA plans Alaska satellite launch

ILS Proton Launches Lightsquared Satellite

Russia Launches Advanced US Telecom Satellite

ULA Launches 350th Delta

MARSDAILY
Driving Through A Field Of Small Craters

Light And Dark In The Phoenix Lake

Breaking The Ice In Antarctica

A Strategy To Search For Life On Mars

MARSDAILY
A Softer Landing on the Moon

New Analysis Explains Formation Of Lunar Farside Bulge

New type of moon rock identified

Moon Express Enters $30 Million Google Lunar X PRIZE Competition

MARSDAILY
Kuiper Belt Of Many Colors

Reaching The Mid-Mission Milestone On The Way To Pluto

New Horizons Student Dust Counter Instrument Breaks Distance Record

Nitrogen Methane Dominate Icy Surface Of Eris

MARSDAILY
Eartly Dust Tails Point To Alien Worlds

U.K. astronomers see 'snooker' star system

e2v To Develop Image Sensors For PLATO Exoplanet Mission

Solar Systems Like Ours May Be Common

MARSDAILY
NASA Test Fires New Rocket Engine for Commercial Space Vehicle

Rocketdyne To Perform Risk-Reduction Tests On 3GRB Engine

SpaceShipTwo designer Rutan retiring

Acceptance Testing On Second R-4D Development Engine Completed

MARSDAILY
Chinese Female Taikonaut Identified

Tiangong Space Lab Spurs China Space PR Blitz

China Announces Success Of Chang'e-2 Lunar Probe Mission

China launching spacecraft at record rate

MARSDAILY
Primordial Dry Ice Fuels Comet Jets

EPOXI Reveals Comet Hartley 2

Flight Of The Comet

Flyby Observations To Offer Insight On Comet Nucleus


The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2010 - SpaceDaily. AFP and UPI Wire Stories are copyright Agence France-Presse and United Press International. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by SpaceDaily on any Web page published or hosted by SpaceDaily. Privacy Statement