Zoé Magazine. Issue 4

20171213132711
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The scientific community, and in particular the astrobiological community, considers the study of Mars as a fundamental objective to understand the origin and evolution of life in the universe. Both Mars and Earth experienced similar formation processes and similar age. And an important factor, our neighbouring planet is accessible, we can send instrumentation to study it relatively easily, compared to other planets. Thus, Mars is the best scenario to seek answers to one of the great questions of humanity: Is there life similar to that on Earth, even if less evolved, in other parts of the universe?

After decades of exploration, we know that the Red Planet had abundant liquid water in the past, volcanic activity, evidence of tsunamis in its primitive sea caused by meteorite impacts or large water ice glaciers. On present-day Mars there are large masses of frozen water in the subsoil (permafrost), forming liquid brines on the slopes with the highest insolation, and even clouds of ice particles form. The presence of caves and lava tubes leads us to imagine habitats in the subsoil that could serve as a refuge for a hypothetical Martian microbiota, similar to the extremophile bacteria we know on Earth. Moreover, we cannot exclude the possibility that Earth was seeded with life from Mars. The exploration missions currently on Mars and the new ones scheduled for 2018 and 2020 (NASA’s InSight and Mars2020, and ESA’s ExoMars 2020) will allow us to learn even more about the planet.

Astrobiologists are convinced that there is still much to be investigated through robotic exploration missions in situ. The study of extremophile microorganisms and terrestrial environments analogous to those discovered on Mars is allowing us to design instrumentation and new exploration mission concepts to search for traces of life. We are living through decisive moments in planetary exploration and great and exciting discoveries are yet to come.

Victor Parro García – Deputy Director of Centro de Astrobiología

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