Life on Mars?

Featured image courtesy of NASA

On Monday, NASA scientists revealed a breakthrough in the quest for potential extraterrestrial life forms and human aspirations to travel out of our planet. They discovered that there is water flowing on Mars. Not frozen in ice gaps. Or vaporized in the air. But life-giving, running water.

Although this discovery is not necessarily evidence to prove that there is life on Mars, it gives scientists hope that life may exist elsewhere. As water is essential for life, these new discoveries allow scientists to believe that microscopic life may have once existed or still exists on Mars. John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, stated, “The existence of liquid water, even if it is super salty briny water, gives the possibility that if there’s life on Mars, that we have a way to describe how it might survive.”

NASA confirmed the discovery of flowing water by observing a process known as deliquescence, where light wavelengths that are associated with certain chemicals are known to pull water from Mars’ atmosphere, which not only allows water to continue to exist as a liquid at lower temperatures, but keeps it from boiling off the thin Martian atmosphere.

Problems revolving around an eager Mars investigation, however, still remain. NASA scientists worry about contaminating the planet with terrestrial organisms from Earth. According to a review conducted by American and European experts, scientists still lack knowledge about the physical conditions of Mars, and they are unsure if organisms from Earth will be able to reproduce on Mars. Would it take a single cell for that species of organism to take root on the planet of Mars?

“We haven’t been able to answer the question, ‘Does life exist beyond Earth?’” said Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA, “[b]ut following the water is a critical element of that. We now have, I think, a great opportunity to be in the right locations on Mars to thoroughly investigate that.”

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