Life May Have Developed on Mars 4 Billion Years Ago
According to new results derived from data sent back by a 10 year old rover, it would appear that the Red Planet was perfectly capable of sustaining the development of life some 4 billion years ago. This means that Mars had the right environment for the job just 500 million years after it first formed. Details of this research appear in a special “Exploring Mars Habitability” issue of the journal Science, which was published on January 24. This date marks the 10th anniversary of Opportunity's arrival on the Red Planet, following its July 2003 launch. Opportunity is a Mars Exploration Rover, and a twin to the deceased Spirit rover. Initially scheduled to spend just 3 months on the surface of Mars, the robot is still exploring rocks and other targets on our neighboring world, and is currently located on the rim of Endeavour Crater. One of its most recent science targets included the oldest minerals the rover has ever found on Mars. Expert Dr. Paulo de Souza, from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, in Australia, says that these materials depict in detail the ancient history of Mars. According to Opportunity data, these minerals show ample signs that water was once present at their location in bulk. This water was most likely very fresh, and kept so by the fact that the planet's core was still active. In all likelihood, Mars was then protected by a magnetosphere, and had a greenhouse effect warming up its atmosphere. In other words, it could be that the Red Planet had identical conditions to those found on Earth when life first started developing here, from the famous primordial soup, said de Souza. The expert is a member of the Opportunity science team led by Cornell University professor Steven Squyres. “While Mars is too cold now to have the liquid water needed for life, we've had evidence for past water activity on the planet from satellite images of valleys and analysis of rocks by the Rovers. But the water that once shaped those landscapes and minerals was as acidic as vinegar,” the investigator added. “Our latest research has found not only the earliest episode of water activity documented yet by the Opportunity Rover, but that the geochemistry of the 4 billion year old rocks indicates extensive deposits of past water that’s among the freshest, most life-sustaining found so far anywhere on Mars,” the CSIRO investigator went on to say. Therefore, the basic conditions required for the development of life were fulfilled on Mars much earlier than they were on Earth. If we analyze the problem from the angle of a theory called panspermia, dealing with how organic molecules are exchanged between planets in the same star system, then it becomes at least possible that some of these molecules made their way here. “Along the way, collected invaluable information about Mars surface with its high tech toolkit of rock scrapers, chemical sensors, and spectral analyzers” Dr. de Souza concluded.