Water on Mars, could there be life?

Scientists recently discovered evidence of liquid water on Mars. It has long been suspected that Mars was once home to large bodies of standing water, however, it was recently found that Mars is home to more than just the frozen water found in the planet’s polar ice caps. There is now evidence that indicates the presence of liquid water in the Garni Crater.

The evidence appears in the form of “recurring slope linea” or, dark streaks on the walls of the crater. The recurring slope linea were first spotted in 2011, but scientists were unsure at the time of what they were. Only recently did they turn to spectroscopy to investigate the chemical composition of the RSLs. NASA scientists tested four different locations and found that the RSLs were made up of hydrated salts, a mix of chlorates and perchlorates. According to the space agency, hydrated salts are a big indicator of liquid water. The streaks only begin to appear during the martian summer, or when the temperature on the surface of the planet exceeds -32 degrees Celsius.

The presence of flowing water has planetary scientists everywhere asking the same question: does this mean that there could be life currently on Mars?

“It’s a big leap to say that there is life there. But the reason that astronomers look for water is because in large part they want to look for life,” Jamie Lombardi, associate professor of physics, said. “We don’t know, there could be life there. That’s now a much larger possibility than it was previously. But it could also just be salty water without the presence of life in it. And so, it does turn up the heat on astronomers to send additional missions there to try and search for microbial life in that water.”

In order to search for life within the water, NASA and other space agencies will have to treat the samples with the utmost caution. None of the rovers currently on Mars are sterile enough to go investigate the craters containing the RSL’s.

According to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, all nations are forbidden from sending any human, robot or mission to a site with water if there is any possibility of contaminating the site. The two active rovers on Mars, Opportunity and Curiosity, were both sterilized before launch, but not to such a degree that NASA can be sure they were entirely purified of all earth microbes. As well as this, on their journey to Mars, it is possible that they may have picked up some sort of other microbial life. In order to investigate this phenomena further, NASA will have to invent a solution.

“You would have to send a new mission. It could be a robotic mission or a manned mission.There have been talks of a manned mission as early as 2030. One of the ways you might do something like this would be to send up robots that could build other robots. So the robots that go up there themselves are not completely sterilized, but they have the capability of building things that are completely sterilized,” Lombardi said.

The possibility of aliens has always captivated the public interest, movies like “Star Wars” and “E.T”. are some of the highest grossing of all time. Some groups, like the Ancient Astronauts, believe that there is sufficient evidence to prove that there is currently life beyond Earth. But official organizations like NASA have remained ambivalent on the topic  of extra terrestrials, often downplaying the possibility that microbial life could exist on Mars today.

“We haven’t been able to answer the question, ‘Does life exist beyond Earth?’ But following the water is a critical element of that. We now have, I think, great opportunities in the right locations on Mars to thoroughly investigate that,” said James L. Green, the director of NASA’s planetary science division, said to the New York Times.

Finding life in our own solar system would be a huge milestone in the field of astronomy, and for humanity itself. If the scientists were to find life on Mars, it would mean that life could exist anywhere, in any form.

“Humans have a very small scope. I do believe that there is bacterial life outside of the Earth, and it’s very possible that there is intelligent life elsewhere,”  Maeve Brownell, ’19, said. “We only exist in this galaxy, on our own planet, we don’t really know what’s happening out there is the universe.”

Abby Remis, ’18, said the discovery of evidence for water on Mars was exciting but she believes it’s important for people to stay grounded on earth for now.

“I guess [the discovery of water] might support the theory that life could exist on Mars, but there’s probably other factors that play a role too. Plus, it seems like we’re a long way away from sending people there and just saying,  ‘live’,” Remis said. “It’s interesting to speculate about living on Mars and sending people up there. But I think we should also take care of our own planet first.”

NASA unveils plan to send people to Mars. Would you go?

In a press release on Oct. 8, NASA revealed a 36 page report detailing its plan to permanently send humans to Mars. The report is titled ‘NASA’s Journey to Mars: Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration” and can be found on the official NASA website.

The Campus asked students on Allegheny campus what they thought about moving to Mars on an online poll.

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