EGU Blogs


Minerals and the search for life on Mars

This was originally posted on James Lewis’ personal blog at:

(Re-posted with permission)

Understanding if life could ever have existed on Mars is one of the most challenging scientific questions facing us in the 21st Century. We know that the Martian surface at present is an arid environment bombarded with ultraviolet radiation, so the chance of finding living organisms existing there today is extremely unlikely. However, Mars has not always been this way, its history is divided into three distinct geological periods; the Amazonian, Hesperian, and the Noachian. The oldest of these, the Noachian, is likely to have been a significantly more promising time for life to potentially evolve as liquid water persisted on or near the surface long enough to carve valleys into the Martian surface and leave behind distinctive rock units. For example, in Gale Crater Curiosity Rover discovered minerals that indicated the presence of a freshwater lake at the time of their formation billions of years ago, an environment favourable to life or at least life as we understand it on Earth.

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Curiosity continues to rock on Mars

NASA might be having a rain-check on its outreach activities, but that’s not why Curiosity has gone silent the last few days. Every once in a while an event known as the Mars Solar Conjunction places Mars’ orbit directly behind the sun with respect to Earth, and makes communications impossible. Transmissions have ceased until May 1st, when the red planet will pop back into digital sight. Until then, Curiosity is working on the ‘B-side’ (like the cool side of the pillow) of its systems and operating autonomously.

In the mean time, I’ve been fortunate enough to be at the MSL (Mars Science Laboratory) Press Conference here in Vienna, with the latest from the little (1 tonne) science-savvy robot. During the current down time, it’s a chance for the teams to begin to really process the data and get the science out there (see here for where Curiosity has got to so far). This is a snippet of what to expect in forthcoming publications.

Panel at the Press Conference: (from left to right) John Grotzinger, Sushil Atreya, Sylvestre Maurice, Javier Gomez-Elvira, and Igor Mitrofanov (click for larger)

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