Mars could now be thought-about a barren, icy desert however did Earth’s nearest neighbour as soon as harbour life?
It’s a query that has preoccupied scientists for hundreds of years and fired up sci-fi imaginings.
Now three area exploration tasks are gearing up to launch some of essentially the most bold bids but to discover a solution.
Scientists consider that 4 billion years in the past the 2 planets each had the potential to nurture life — however a lot of Mars’ intervening historical past is an enigma.
The new Mars probes from america, United Arab Emirates and China will launch this summer season.
Their purpose is just not to discover Martian life — scientists consider nothing would survive there now — however to seek for doable traces of previous lifeforms.
These huge and dear programmes might show futile. However astrobiologists say the purple planet remains to be our greatest hope for locating a report of life on different planets.
Mars is “the only planet with concrete chances of finding traces of extraterrestrial life because we know that billions of years ago it was inhabitable,” stated Jean-Yves Le Gall, president of French area company CNES in a convention name with journalists this week.
Le Gall is one of the architects of NASA’s Mars 2020 exploratory probe, which is scheduled for launch on the finish of July when Earth and Mars would be the closest for greater than two years.
The greater than $2.5 billion challenge is the most recent — and most technologically superior — try to uncover Mars’ deep buried secrets and techniques.
However it’s not alone, as enthusiasm for area exploration has reignited.
‘Information from Mars’
Scientific enquiry of the purple planet started in earnest within the 17th Century.
In 1609, Italian Galileo Galilei noticed Mars with a primitive telescope and in doing so grew to become the primary particular person to use the brand new know-how for astronomical functions.
Fifty years later, Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens used a extra superior telescope of his personal design to make the primary ever topographical drawing of the planet.
Mars — in contrast to the “desolate, empty” moon — has lengthy appeared promising for potential inhabitability by microorganisms, wrote astrophysicist Francis Rocard in his latest essay “Latest News from Mars”.
However the 20th century introduced setbacks.
Within the 1960s, because the race to put a person on the moon was accelerating in the direction of its dazzling “Giant Leap”, Dian Hitchcock and James Lovelock had been placing a dampener on hopes of discovering life on Mars.
Their analysis analysed the planet’s environment in search of a chemical imbalance, gases reacting with one another, which might trace at life.
“If there is no reaction, then there is probably no life there,” Lovelock advised AFP.
“And that was the case — Mars has an atmosphere that is completely inactive as far as chemistry is concerned.”
Their conclusion was confirmed a decade later, when the Viking landers took atmospheric and soil samples that confirmed the planet was now not inhabitable.
This discovery was a “real tanker” for Mars analysis, Rocard advised AFP.
Mars programmes primarily paused for 20 years.
Then in 2000 scientists made a game-changing discovery: they discovered that water had as soon as flowed over its floor.
Observe the water
This tantalising discovering helped rekindle the latent curiosity in Mars exploration.
Scientists pored over pictures of gullies, ravines, scouring the Martian floor for proof of liquid water.
Greater than 10 years later, in 2011, they definitively discovered it.
The “follow the water, follow the carbon, follow the light” technique has paid off, Rocard stated.
Each mission because the discovery of water has introduced “more and more evidence to light that Mars is not quite as dead as we thought,” Michel Viso, an astrobiologist at CNES, advised AFP.
The newest US rover to make the journey — aptly named Perseverance — is scheduled to contact down in February of subsequent yr after a six-month journey from launch time.
The probe is probably essentially the most highly-awaited but. Its touchdown spot, the Jezero Crater, could have as soon as been a large, 45-kilometre river delta.
Wealthy in sedimentary rocks, similar to clay and carbonates — the identical varieties of rocks that maintain fossil traces on Earth — Jezero could possibly be a treasure trove.
Or maybe not.
“We know that water once flowed, but the question remains: for how long?” requested Rocard. “We don’t even know how long it took for life to appear on Earth.”
If the mission can convey these rocks again to Earth they may yield solutions to the questions which have lengthy confounded scientists.
However they’ll have to wait no less than 10 years for the evaluation to be out there.
Viso stated the outcomes will probably be “a bundle of clues” moderately than a transparent reply.
Scientists are additionally contemplating maybe an much more profound query.
If life by no means existed on Mars, then why not?
The reply to this might enrich our understanding of how life developed on our personal planet, Jorge Vago, the spokesperson of the European Area Company stated.
Due to shifting plate tectonics under the Earth’s core, it’s exceedingly tough to discover any traces of life right here earlier than 3.5 billion years in the past.
Mars has no tectonic plates and so there’s a probability that four-billion-year-old indicators of life that “one could never find on Earth” could also be preserved there, Vago stated.
And if the most recent Mars programmes fail to discover indicators of historical Martian life, there are at all times additional frontiers to discover.
Encelade and Europe, two of Saturn’s and Jupiter’s moons, respectively are thought-about promising contenders.
Though reaching them stays extra science fiction than actuality.