Searching for Life on Mars - What Has Been Done So Far?
Exploring Mars: Features and Missions
Mars is fascinating and it has intrigued humanity for decades. Known as the "Red Planet," it appears reddish in the night sky due to rust or iron oxide on its surface. The planet has a scanty atmosphere which is primarily composed of carbon dioxide. This results in a chilly and arid climate with an average temperature of -63 degrees Celsius.
Although the harsh conditions of its surroundings present significant difficulties, Mars has been a crucial destination for scientific research. Big missions, such as the Viking 1 and 2 landers, which were conducted in year 1976, along with more recent endeavors like the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Science Laboratory, have demonstrated this. The latter successfully achieved the landing of the Curiosity rover on the planet's surface in 2012.
Searching for Life on Mars
The possibility of finding life on Mars is viewed as one of the most fascinating aspects of exploring the planet. Despite the absence of any conclusive proof of existing life, there are several indications that suggest the possibility of the planet's past association with living organisms.
In the beginning, Mars had a wetter past with lakes and rivers, and there are indications of water on its surface through desiccated riverbeds and minerals that necessitate the presence of water to form. Second, underground aquifers or subsurface oceans of liquid water may exist, which could be potential habitats for life. Third, the planet Mars has such an atmosphere that contains methane, which is actually a sign of biological activity.
Mission to Search for Life on Mars
Several missions have been exclusively designed to search for signs of life on planet Mars. The Mars 2020 mission, which landed the rover on Mars in February 2021, is one of such missions. The rover carries with it several scientific instruments that are capable of detecting signs of past microbial life and detect organic molecules. These even identify the isotopic composition of rocks and the soil. In addition, the rover also gathers samples of rocks and soil that will be returned to Earth for analysis.
Further effort to detect signs of life is through the ExoMars mission. The collaboration for this project is between the Russian space agency Roscosmos and the European Space Agency. Its primary objective is to uncover potential indications of life. In 2022 a mission was launched in which the ExoMars rover equipped with drilling capability excavated 2 meters below the surface of the planet in attempt to find traces of life there.
Challenges to Finding Life on Mars
Despite the ongoing search for life on Mars, finding evidence of past or present life on the planet remains challenging. he surface's unwelcoming environment, such as the cold, dry climate, and the thin atmosphere that fails to shield against hazardous space radiation, makes it hostile for most known Earthly life forms. Additionally, any kind of signs of life on Mars may be difficult to detect and could even be easily missed.
To summarize, scientific exploration of Mars remains a prominent objective, and the prospect of discovering life on the planet is a major motivator for ongoing research and space missions. Despite the substantial obstacles in detecting any traces of life on Mars, scientists persist in investigating both the surface and subsurface of the planet, seeking to uncover groundbreaking revelations that may transform our understanding of life in the cosmos.
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