Drilling on Mars to find evidence of ancient organisms: a second genesis of life?

Sep 15, 2005 feature
Drilling on Mars to find evidence of ancient organisms: a second genesis of life?

Was there ever life on Mars? The answer to this question would do more than just satisfy curiosity. Researchers from NASA announce a plan to drill on Mars in search of ancient Martian organisms for comparison between life on Mars and life on Earth.

It is already theorized that life on Earth shares a common ancestor with life on Mars brought about by an exchange of material from meteorites. Evidence of life on Mars would strengthen this theory and give insight to origins of life on Earth.

Current research has focused on attaining fossils of Martian life which would only prove that life once existed on the planet. However, scientists from NASA and the SETI Institute believe that they can find out more information from Martian permafrost.

If researchers could discover dead, but intact organisms from Mars, biochemical and genetic analysis could be performed. These methods would provide a way for direct comparison between the life once found on Mars and the life currently found on Earth.

The best place to look for preserved Martian organisms is in the permafrost found on the Southern hemisphere of Mars. Heavily cratered, this terrain dates back to early Martian history when water was abundant and existence of life more likely.

Scientists at NASA have several obstacles to overcome as they plan this study. Mars is under strict planetary protection laws set forth by the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR). Any robotic drilling missions would need to utilize sterile equipment to avoid introducing biological material into the Martian environment.

Also, contamination of samples must be avoided to ensure that biological material taken from the permafrost was of Martian origin.

Before a drilling mission to Mars is underway, more research is needed to develop automated drilling systems or systems for human operation.

In the near future though, NASA hopes to find evidence of life on Mars. Could this evidence represent a second genesis of life, separate from that on Earth? The answers may be in the permafrost.

Reference:

Smith HD and McKay CP.
Planetary and Space Science Journal. 2005. Article in Press.

by Gina M. Buss, Copyright 2005 PhysOrg.com

Explore further: NASA deep-space rocket, SLS, to launch in 2018

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

In low gravity, scientists search for a way to saute

Aug 08, 2014

Chow mein on Mars? Moo shu on the moon? What would it be like to stir-fry in space? A bit messy, according to Cornell researchers, who recently conducted the first partial gravity cooking on record.

Robotic rock climbers could uncover clues to Mars' past

Aug 04, 2014

A robot that can scale the faces of steep cliffs might one day help explore Mars and find signs of life. The latest experiments with this "Cliffbot" showed it could help examine places otherwise difficult ...

Recommended for you

Witnessing the early growth of a giant

10 hours ago

Astronomers have uncovered for the first time the earliest stages of a massive galaxy forming in the young Universe. The discovery was made possible through combining observations from the NASA/ESA Hubble ...

Light of life

12 hours ago

A fluorescent microscopic view of cells from a type of bone cancer, being studied for a future trip to deep space – aiming to sharpen our understanding of the hazardous radiation prevailing out there.

User comments : 0