It all happened so fast! On Thursday, February 18th, NASA’s Perseverance rover set landed in the Jezero crater on Mars and almost immediately transmitted its first image of the Martian. This was followed by photos from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and footage taken by the rover’s Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL). Then there was the panoramic video, a sound recording, and deployed its Ingenuity helicopter, all in the space of a week!
But that’s nothing compared to what happened next. Shortly after the rover started drilling into the floor of the Jezero crater, Perseverance found evidence of fossilized bacteria! The search for life on Mars finally struck paydirt! Okay, that didn’t happen… Not yet, anyway. But what if it does? After all, one of Perseverance‘s main objectives is to search for evidence of past life on Mars. What will be the impact if and when it finds it?
Continue reading “What Happens if Perseverance Finds Life on Mars?”
Mars is often referred to as “Earth’s Twin” because of the similarities the two planets have. In fact, Mars is ranked as the second most-habitable planet in the Solar System behind Earth. And yet, ongoing studies have revealed that at one time, our two planets had even more in common. In fact, a recent study showed that at one time, the Gale Crater experienced conditions similar to what Iceland experiences today.
Since 2012, the Curiosity rover has been exploring the Gale Crater in search of clues as to what conditions were like there roughly 3 billion years ago (when Mars was warmer and wetter). After comparing evidence gathered by Curiosity to locations on Earth, a team from Rice University concluded that Iceland’s basaltic terrain and cool temperatures are the closest analog terrain to ancient Mars there is.
Continue reading “Iceland is a Similar Environment to Ancient Mars”
We are once again indebted to Kevin M. Gill, a science data visualization artist with a flair for the cosmos, for this beautiful rendering! The image first popped up on Kevin’s Twitter feed last week and can also be found (and downloaded) on his Flickr account. As he explained, the visual is his rendition of what the Hypanis Valles on Mars may have looked like back when water still flowed in the region. As he described it:
Continue reading “A Real River Valley on Mars, Filled With Virtual Water by @Kevinmgill”
“A meandering river? Obvious and bad CGI? Based on a real place on Mars? All Three! Outflow location at Hypanis Valles With Flowing Water, via @HiRISE DTM data.”
For decades, robotic missions have been exploring Mars to learn more about the planet’s geological and environmental history. Next year, the Perseverance rover will join in the hunt and be the first mission to send samples back to Earth and by the 2030s, the first crewed mission is expected to take place. All of these efforts are part of an ongoing effort to find evidence of past (and maybe even present) life on Mars.
According to a new study from Rutgers University-New Brunswick., the most likely place to find this evidence is located several kilometers beneath the surface. It is here (they argue) that water still exists in liquid form, which is likely the result of geothermal heating melting thick subsurface sheets of ice. This research could help resolve lingering questions like the faint young Sun paradox.
Continue reading “You’re Going to Need a Bigger Drill. The Best Place for Life on Mars is Deep, Deep Underground”
Thanks to multiple robotic missions that have explored Mars’ atmosphere, surface, and geology, scientists have concluded that Mars was once a much warmer, wetter place. In addition to having a thicker atmosphere, the planet was actually warm enough that flowing water could exist on the surface in the form of rivers, lakes, and even an ocean that covered much of the northern hemisphere.
According to new research based on data collected by NASA’s Curiosity mission, it appears that the Gale Crater (where the rover has been exploring for the past eight years) experienced massive flooding roughly 4 billion years ago. These findings indicate that the mid-latitudes of Mars were also covered in water at one time and offers additional hints that the region once supported life.
Continue reading “At One Time, This Region of Mars was Inundated by a “Megaflood””
In the next few years, Mars will be visited by three new rovers, the Perseverance, Tianwen-1, and Rosalind Franklin missions. Like their predecessors – Pathfinder and Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity, and Curiosity – these robotic missions will explore the surface, searching for evidence of past and present life. But even after years of exploring, an important question remains: where is the best place to look?
To date, all attempts to find evidence of life on the surface have yielded nothing, owing to the fact that the Martian environment is extremely cold, desiccated, and irradiated. According to a new study by an international team of researchers led by Cornell University and the Centro de Astrobiología in Madrid, the Atacama desert in the mountains of Chile could hold the answer.
Continue reading “The Driest Place on Earth Could Help Predict How Life Might be Surviving on Mars”
It’s no secret that Mars once had abundant water flowing on its surface in the forms of rivers, lakes, and even an ocean. For this reason, scientists continue to wonder whether or not Mars might have had life in the past. Today, the surface is an extremely cold, dry place where even a single droplet of water would instantly freeze, boil, or evaporate. Unless, of course, the water had salt dissolved in it.
If these “briny” patches still exist on Mars, then it’s possible there are small pockets on the surface where microbes can still exist. This presents problems as far as issues of “planetary protection” are concerned. However, a new study led by the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) has shown that if life from Earth were brought over by robotic or human explorers, it probably couldn’t survive in these brines.
Continue reading “Earth Life Probably Can’t Spread to Mars Today”
Billions of years ago, Mars had liquid water on its surface in the form of lakes, streams, and even an ocean that covered much of its northern hemisphere. The evidence of this warmer, wetter past is written in many places across the landscape in the form of alluvial fans, deltas, and mineral-rich clay deposits. However, for over half a century, scientists have been debating whether or not liquid water exists on Mars today.
According to new research by Norbert Schorghofer – the Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute – briny water may form intermittently on the surface of Mars. While very short-lived (just a few days a year), the potential presence of seasonal brines on the Martian surface would tell us much about the seasonal cycles of the Red Planet, as well as help to resolve one of its most enduring mysteries.
Continue reading “Salt Water Might Still be Able to Collect on the Surface of Mars a Few Days a Year”
From some viewpoints, Mars is kind of like a skeleton of Earth. We can see that it had volcanoes, oceans, and rivers, but the volcanoes no longer fume and the water is all gone. A new image from the ESA’s Mars Express drives the point home.
Continue reading “This Dried Up Riverbed Shows that Water Once Flowed on the Surface of Mars”
What happened to Mars? If Mars and Earth were once similar, as scientists think, what happened to all the water? Did there used to be enough to support life?
Thanks to the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity, we’re getting a better picture of ancient Mars and what it went through billions of years ago. A new study published in Nature Geoscience says that Mars likely underwent alternating periods of wet and dry, before becoming the frigid, dry desert it is now. Or at least, Gale Crater did.
Continue reading “Curiosity Finds A Region of Ancient Dried Mud. It Could Have Been an Oasis Billions of Year Ago”