NASA Hunts for Fossils on Mars
The topography of Mars will bring scientists closer to the truth about life on this desolate, or maybe not so desolate, planet. The diversity of geologic formations continues to pave the way for endless investigations and research. To solve the mystery of what kind of life existed, the understanding of rock formation and chemistry are some of the essential studies in NASA’s hunt for fossils on Mars.
Currently, two active rovers are on Mars and are located on different sides of the planet. One of these rovers is known as Curiosity which landed in 2012, and the other, Opportunity, which landed in 2004. These machines are able to analyze the environment and send reports and footage back down to Earth. A similar expedition took place during the late 70s called the Viking experiments where two landers with robotic arms took samples in an attempt to search for metabolism of organic material. The findings of this particular mission were inconclusive until the Phoenix lander in 2008 explored the planet, and in doing so, discovered perchlorate; the substance is known to break down organic compounds.
The modern rovers today have maintained functionality and continue to bring NASA more and more information that can be used in their research.
The Power of Science: Tens of millions of dollars were invested in Curiosity’s mission alone. The science put into this car-sized rover has been used to discover Mars’ ancient secrets. Elizabeth Landow at CNN speaks on some of these striking discoveries NASA has encountered in the hunt for life and fossils on Mars. She reports NASA scientists believe there is a very good chance life could have existed on the red planet, and if not of advanced “Martian” bi-pedals, something else less complex; something known as a chemolithoautotraph.
George Rice of Montana State University explains, the chemolithoautotraph is a bacterial microbe that obtains the necessary carbon for metabolic processes from the carbon dioxide in their environment. In other words, this microorganism does not use the sun for energy, and it makes its own food through chemical reaction. So if life did exist, it is very likely that this autotraph was present in the very minimal of circumstances; however, John Grotzinger, lead scientist on the Curiosity mission believes the state of Mars has definitively been habitable at one point, but this does not mean it was inhabited.
At this very moment in time, the Opportunity rover rests at a location known as the Endeavor Crater. The rover was guided to this location by remarkable geological signals detected by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. It is at this crater that Opportunity has analyzed minerals in the rock bedding which have been found to be smectite clay. Scientists say this particular mineral can only have developed during a time when there was a large presence of water.
With water and the right conditions, comes life. When Curiosity joined Opportunity in 2012, she was able to affirm the previous hypothesis of a past presence of water bodies. This newer model rover is capable of much more analysis than her NASA engineered predecessor, as she is well prepared to find and analyze the smallest of molecules. She landed on Gale Crater and discovered similar findings as Opportunity discovered at the Endeavor Crater. Additionally, Curiosity helped scientists realize a location on Mars known as, Yellowknife Bay, is a place of very high mineral count, and likely to have supported life. This is an area that could have sustained various forms of life by way of “a lake-stream-groundwater system that might have existed for millions of years,” -Grotzinger. It is at this specific location on Mars that the NASA hunt for fossilized organisms might come back fruitful.
One still cannot say whether or not there was intelligent life on Mars. Researches veer on the conservative side saying it is better to assume only microorganisms existed, if anything at all; however, one cannot leave out an important image that has caught many peoples’ eye. NASA image, PSP_007781.
If there was a time “Martians” did exist, most scientists would concur that the species would have existed, most probably, during the million year “reign” of water bodies and a strong atmosphere. Mars being 4.5 billion years old, anything can be imagined possible.
In this photo, many believe that these squares were made by intelligent farmers, eons upon eras ago. – Squares of Mars—Evidence of a lost intelligent species dominion by Gary Proffitt.
What does Mars look like in person? The writer at Isset.org describes Mars as having canyons at least 5 times deeper than the Grand Canyon, volcanoes larger than Mount Everest, endless sand dunes, cream-colored skies, and thick fog which fills the valleys.
Curiosity is now on her way to Mount Sharp as NASA prepares the next rover to launch in 2020. Grotzinger explains how the Curiosity rover will show the team exactly how organic compounds are preserved in rocks. In turn, this will lead to the discovery of the process through which skeletons could have been geologically stored, and where they can be found. So NASA continues the hunt for fossils on Mars while scientists battle for answers.
By Lindsey Alexander