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So far, the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Mission has turned up very little evidence that there is, or was, life on the Red Planet. Even more bad news is on the way from data sent back from NASA rovers Opportunity and Spirit – it would seem that the planetÂ was “too salty” for even the toughest organisms on Earth to survive. It would appear, from new results presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston, that although Mars had abundant supplies of water in the past, its oceans would have been too acidic, withÂ poisonous concentrations of minerals. Even when conditions were best on the surface, the very toughest microbes will have found it difficult…
The NASA MER mission has been a resounding success. Both Opportunity and Sprit have operated on Mars longer than any mission scientist would have dreamed. So far, both rovers have been trundling around on the planet forÂ nearly four years, and have carried out some exciting science, analysing the Martian regolith and rocks, observing atmospherics and geology, not forgetting the spectacular panoramic photography… but they have yet to find any compelling evidence for life. Even after the excitement of Spirits big discovery back in Decemeber, the hunt for Martian life remains inconclusive.
Now, it seems, there’s another blow for life on Mars – it’s too salty. It’s been known for a long time that Mars once had large quantities of water, giving hope that life once thrived on the planet. But these new findings suggest the water may have been too rich in minerals, making it very difficult for life (as we know it) to survive.
“It was really salty – in fact, it was salty enough that only a handful of known terrestrial organisms would have a ghost of a chance of surviving there when conditions were at their best.” – Dr Andrew Knoll, a biologist at Harvard University, speaking at the AAAS meeting.
This news comes from Opportunity, currently working in Duck Bay (an alcove attached to Victoria Crater, pictured left) and these new results come from rock analysis in the region. Although this may be discouraging for scientists trying to find life on Mars, this is by no means the final straw. The Phoenix Mission is currently en-route to Mars and one of its mission objectives is to carry out advanced analysis for Martian life. Phoenix lands on May 25 of this year to hunt for life in the frozen North Pole. Also, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) is expected for launch in 2009 and will continue the hunt for organic compounds in the Martian regolith.