Since we commenced with a robotic exploration of Mars in the mid-20th century, Scientists have always wondered if there is life on Mars. To answer this question, space agencies have continued to launch rovers, landers, and orbiters to explore the red planet in search of microbial lifeforms. But is there life on Mars? In a recently released video, a NASA scientist shared her view about the possibility of lifeform existing on Mars. Continue reading to learn more about her view.
What the NASA scientist think about life on Mars
NASA is one of the space agencies taking the lead in operating several missions on Martian terrains. Currently, the American space agency has the Curiosity rover which arrived on Mars in 2012, and the Perseverance rover which landed on Mars in 2021 making effort to discover traces of life on the red planet. Perseverance has selectively collected cores from rock samples from the Jezero Crater.
Scientists have previously suggested that minuscule traces of life may have been trapped at this location. Hence, the sample collected by the rover will help scientists advance the way we approach the search for life on the Martian surface. NASA in partnership with the European Space Agency is already making plans on how to return these samples to Earth to advance our search for life on the red planet. NASA scientists are always curious about life outside our home planet, Earth.
“We’re just now getting instruments onto the Martian surface that can help us understand these potentially habitable places and we can ask deeper questions about the potential for habitability in those rock cores,” Heather Graham, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, explained in the 1-minute video released on Dec. 28. “We’ve been looking for life on Mars for a long time.”
From her explanation, you will realize that NASA is making an effort that will help humans to determine if we are alone in the Universe or sharing it with other lifeforms existing on different planets. NASA scientist Heather Graham is actually a researcher with lots of potential. She is officially an organic geochemist and research associate working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Graham focuses on studying the connections between biotic and abiotic systems. Her research is targeted at “agnostic biosignatures,” which is a term described by NASA as evidence of living systems that may not share similarities with life on Earth.
For years, Graham has been working on studies that will boost the development of tools and techniques that can help NASA discover evidence of living systems with biochemistry that may be different from life on Earth. Scientists often rely on the common heritage of life on Earth to search for life on Mars and other celestial bodies in the solar system.
These life detection methods could possibly help scientists in understanding more about the evolution of life on Earth for billions of years. However, as we continue to deploy some of these methods on Mars, we are certain that humans may find life on the red planet someday in the future.
“And while NASA hasn’t found any evidence of life now, we’ve found lots of evidence that Mars could have supported life in the past,” Graham explained. “There are lots of pieces of evidence that say there was once a huge ocean on Mars and an atmosphere that could have supported life.”
Is there Life on Mars? Here’s Why Life might have existed on Ancient Mars
Around 4.5 billion years ago, Mars was formed from the remaining nebulae materials that formed the Sun. After 500 million years of its formation, the planet began to cool off and water began to emerge on its surface. Scientists estimated that the 45-kilometer-wide Jezero Crater was once filled with water. Since water is the key ingredient for life, scientists assumed that the abundance of water on ancient Mars could serve as concrete evidence for the existence of ancient life on the red planet.
Even though the entire Martian surface including the Jezero Crater is completely dry now, NASA still hopes that some rock samples in this region could still contain some evidence of microbial lifeforms. Hence, the space agency landed its Perseverance Rover in the Jezero Crater in 2021 to advance the search for life on the red planet.
The existence of water in this region in the past enabled some clay materials to surround the area. Scientists assume that if ancient lifeforms were present in the Jezero Crater during ancient times, then, some of these lifeforms could still remain in the shoreline sediments or lakebed. Hence, NASA uses its Perseverance rover to collect rock samples from this region.
Why Mars lost its Water and Atmosphere
Scientists believed that Mars lost its water at the same time it lost its magnetic field nearly 4 billion years ago. Unlike Earth with a strong magnetic field preventing harmful radiation from sweeping away the atmosphere, Mars lost most of its atmosphere after losing its magnetic field due to radiation.
Without an Earth-like atmosphere, Mars cannot hold water on its surface. Hence, the ancient water that existed on the Martian surface was evaporated and lost to space. The harmful radiation also prevents life from thriving on the Martian surface. However, scientists are suggesting that liquid water may exist deep down beneath the Martian surface.
“There are places that are potentially habitable, like the deep subsurface. There are places underground that could have fluids in them or organisms could live, and they’d be protected from the radiation that’s so harmful on the surface,” Graham explained. “So is there life on Mars? Not that we’ve found yet, but there’s still a lot of Mars left to explore.”
While we are yet to find evidence of life on Mars, scientists are still hopeful that the samples collected by the Perseverance rover will move us closer to finding life on the red planet. So is there life on Mars? It is only a matter of time before we answer this question. What do you think about the possibility of life existing on the Martian terrain?