Liquid Water on Mars and the Search for Life
life on other planets? For decades this question
has been on the minds of scientists and regular people alike. Countries have sent missions to explore
space, our moon, and most recently Mars.
Picture 1 Credit to: pusillanimous.squarespace.com/ (This is a dead link I found through google.com. The active link is: http://gw.marketingden.com/planets/images/fullsize/mars.jpg)
In the search for life on other planets, scientists
must first find the proper conditions for life as we know it. What are these conditions? The requirements for life include energy
(from our sun) and the elements; mainly carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. From
these elements, water, carbon dioxide, and other organic molecules can be
Scientists have already determined the thin Marian atmosphere is composed mostly of carbon dioxide. But because water is a main requirement for life, you can understand astrobiologists’ principal search for it on Mars. These scientists are searching for the presence (in Mars’ past and present) of liquid water. Through several fly-by and ground explorations, researchers have found frozen water at the north and south poles, beneath the soil in the southern hemisphere, and water in the atmosphere.
Picture 2 -Martian Atmosphere Credit to: Spacetech’s Orrery The Solar System in Action http://www.harmsy.freeuk.com/mars.html
Picture 3 Credit to: Leonard David, http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/solarsystem/odyssey_viking_020528.html
“Soil enriched in hydrogen is indicated by deep blue colors, where a low intensity of so-called epithermal neutrons is found. View is of Mars' south pole.”
Please click on this link to compare Earth’s South Pole to Mars’ North Pole. Credit to NASA’s Sibling Rivalry: A Mars/Earth Comparison by Dr. Jim Garvin, Chief Scientist, NASA Mars Exploration Program.
The water at the Martian poles is frozen beneath layers of dry ice (carbon dioxide). The water beneath the soil is frozen because of the frigid temperatures on Mars. The traces of water found in the thin atmosphere are believed to be the result of methane oxidation. Other evidence of possible liquid water on Mars includes the geologic formations on the planet’s surface. Data gathered from photos show now dry riverbeds, canyons, gullies, lakebeds, seafloors, and shorelines.
Picture 5 Credit to:
Further evidence discovered by
NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor is the presence of magnesite, a carbonate formed
when CO2 meets other minerals in the presence of water. Mars rover
NASA researchers believe that at some time in its past,
Mars had a habitable climate and liquid water.
This doesn’t mean life existed, but the conditions on Mars were
suitable. If there ever was any, most
likely life on Mars was microbial life.
And if life did exist on Mars, some of it could still be present today.
Although carbonates have been found on Mars, they do
not occur in the amounts consistent with the evaporation of an ocean. Yet the evidence of water is clear. So why the low amounts of carbonates? The explanation comes from Alberto Fairen of
the Universidad Autonoma de
Fairen and his colleagues studied
the mineralogy of Meridiani Planum and compared it to the
The water ice at Mars’ poles could
harbor life forms similar to microbes found on Earth. Pockets of ice and briny water are home to
cyanobacteria, a life form that generates its own sunscreen. Could similar forms of life be found on Mars? In 2002, John Priscu and a team of scientists
cyanobacterium of the genus recovered from the ice above
Works Cited And Other Interesting Links
Ancient, Frozen Antarctic Life Revived, Along with Hopes for Life on Mars; Robert Roy Britt, Senior Science Writer; December 16, 2002; http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/antarctic_life_021216.html
Hopes for life on Mars undermined as probe finds no trace of oceans; Steve Connor, Science Editor; August 22, 2003; http://news.independent.co.uk/world/science_medical/story.jsp?story=436010
Mars Ice is Mostly Water: Good for Biologists, Bad for Terraformers; Robert Roy Britt,
Senior Science Writer; February 13, 2003; http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/mars_ice_030213.html
Mars Liquid Water Elusive, But Present; Robert Roy Britt, Senior Science Writer; August 21 2003; http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/mars_liquid_030821.html
Odyssey Discovers Abundant Water Ice on Mars; Robert Roy Britt, Senior Science Writer; March 1, 2002; http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/solarsystem/odyssey_update_020301.html
Odyssey's Icy Discovery Warms Up Controversial Theories; Leonard David, Senior Space Writer; May 28, 2002; http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/solarsystem/odyssey_viking_020528.html
Scientists Seek Scent of Life in Methane at Mars; Leonard David, Senior
August 24, 2004; http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/mars_methane_040824.html
Special: Sibling Rivalry: A Mars/Earth Comparison; Dr. Jim Garvin, Chief Scientist, NASA Mars Exploration Program; April 21, 2004; http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/news/topstory/2004/0422earthmars.html
The Moon Or Mars…Which Shall It Be? Leonard David, Senior Space Writer; January 28, 2002; http://www.space.com/news/moon_or_mars_020128-1.html
The Solar System in Action; Spacetech’s Orrery; http://www.harmsy.freeuk.com/mars.html
UH Astrobiology Team Studies Water and Life in the Universe; Karen Meech and Eric Gaidos; Winter 2004; http://www2.ifa.hawaii.edu/newsletters/article.cfm?a=138&n=14
Water Ice Found Near South Pole of Mars; Robert Roy Britt, Senior Science Writer; December 5, 2002; http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/solarsystem/mars_ice_021205.html
Water Once Filled Mars
March 2, 2004; http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/opportunity_news_040302.html
Water on Mars; Malcolm Walter; May 11, 2004; http://astronomy.swin.edu.au/sao/guest/walter/