The discoveries on Mars in 2018 might give us hope for life on the Red Planet.

You probably think creatures on Mars are little green beings. Spoiler alert: There are no such creatures on the Red Planet. Sci-Fi movies about Mars depicts the planet as a horrific world of sinister eaten beings. Fortunately, Mars is way more subtle than you’d imagine to be. As a matter of fact, we’re not sure if there is life on Mars, for now, but the hope of finding life has lead to some amazing discoveries in 2018. If we talk about life on Mars, we don’t mean ‘monsters.’ We mean microbes.

 

Related media: Ancient Organics Discovered on Mars

 

Let There Be Life 

In the summer of 2018, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced that the Curiosity rover — NASA’s robot that’s been trekking the Red Planet’s surface for half a decade — made a huge discovery on Mars. It discovered ‘organic molecules.’ As a matter of fact, “organic” doesn’t mean naturally grown fruits and vegetables. It means that the molecules containing the foundation of life — building blocks of life. This is a really Big Deal.

Organic molecules are basically the elements that are able to sustain life, biologically. The organic molecules found on Mars contains the elements of carbon and hydrogen, which are really important for sustaining life on Earth. Organic molecules may also contain oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, and some other elements. Discovering organics on Mars is not a certainty of life on the planet, but an optimistic hope. The organic molecules the Curiosity rover found are complex molecular structure, different from the simple ones it discovered years ago.

Curiosity is just a tip of the iceberg. It’s meant to set the stage for even more advanced NASA missions to search for signs of life in the near future. The ExoMars rover — European Space Agency’s (ESA) own version of Curiosity on Mars — can directly analyze organic molecules for their molecular structures as to how their configuration is similar to how life appears on Earth. NASA’s Mars rover set to launch in 2020, is not only capable to search for signs of life on the planet, but also cache rock samples on the surface, and later brought to Earth for further research.

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Image: NASA Curiosity Rover

 

Red Oceans Or Terrains 

In the summer of 2018, Scientists at the ESA Mars Express announced that they had made an extraordinary discovery on the Red Planet. The discovery of liquid water beneath the surface of Mars, which appears to be buried under the Martian south pole. We’re not too certain what this “liquid water” is. But previous indications suggests that it might be a slurry full of dust. Other news reports called this underground water a “lake.” Huh? That’s too early to get so excited about.

What we need is more investigations about what’s really lurking underneath the surface of Mars, whether it’s a lake, ocean or whatever. And even what chemical compounds are in it, before we get excited since the discovery was done via a radar. NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter could also be hunting the Martian surface with it’s radar that can detect underneath. More than a decade now, it hasn’t seen anything yet. Scientists are yet to confirm or deny the Mars Express discovery based on observations.

Let’s say that scientists confirm this find, that would be really awesome for the Martian fans. Liquid water is mostly associated with life, whereas the Red Planet is extremely dry, wind swept, and talk of radiation. We’re not really looking forward to seeing complex life organisms, but if microbes could be underneath Mars, they could survive. That’s what astrobiologists would be excited about.

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Image: NASA

 

A Hope To Be Alive 

Hopes for life on Mars also depends on the geology of the planet, since microbes could survive underneath. Luckily for us, NASA’s InSight — Curiosity’s successor — safely touched the surface on Mars in November 2018, and is deploying it’s instruments. We hope for the best in it’s quest to find more.

The InSight rover is now searching for signs of possible activities such as “marsquakes,” volcanoes, tectonics, and other signs of Red Planet being alive, geologically speaking. Biologically? We’d need a miracle, since the hunt is still on like an ‘El Dorado.’

Many attempts in the past has proven not to find life on Mars, and even on other planet. Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) satellites has done the best to find alien life but nothing as microbial life hasn’t been found yet. We hope one day it becomes a reality, that indeed, extraterrestrial life exists — at least some microbes.

 

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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Wed, Dec 20, 2018.

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