NASA has recently found evidence that gullies similar to rivers on Earth have been carved out of the landscape on Mars. The pictures were captured by HiRISE, the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment. Apparently, drastic seasonal changes happen on Mars as well. There is evidence that seasonal change caused CO2 frost heavy in iron minerals to carve the ravine. The scientists are hopeful they find signs of the existence of life such as autotrophs, self-feeders or chemotrophs, which take electrons from deep-sea vents and harvest energy from chemicals like ferrous iron, molecular hydrogen, and ammonia. Alternatively, the scientists are looking for a creature potentially found in a Mars gully that has a mouthful for a name, the chemolithoautotroph, a microbe that can feed off organisms of mineral origin.
The Mars gully discovery; however, does not prove that life exists on Mars and it is erroneous to believe that the ravines were caused by water, which would make it more likely that life existed there. According to Space.com there are signs that ancient Mars was more likely to have had life. NASA’s rover Curiosity discovered a previous lake-and-stream system that could have supported microbial life. So the world remains hopeful for more information that could lead to a discovery that would alter the course of humanity and finally lay to rest our suspicions that indeed we have neighbors; microbes, quite unlike humans, but nonetheless, neighbors.
What on Earth (pun intended) would happen if we found out there are microbial creatures living on Mars? The world’s population would likely go into a frenzy and there would be a lot of buzz about what types of creatures could develop, what kinds have previously existed, where and how they developed, etc. There is a palpable fascination with aliens in western culture and so the idea that there may be a Mars gully with microbial beings living in it would peak the creativity of movie makers and writers world-wide. Images of microbial autotrophe costumes come to mind.
The movie Red Planet also comes to mind. In the movie, the Earth’s atmosphere degrades and Earth sends missions to plant life breathing, oxygen producing algae on the planet so that Earth can send its population to survive there. The algae stops producing as much oxygen as it did previously and a team is sent to investigate. The movie toys with the possibility of microorganisms existing on Mars and the idea that life could exist there, this sounds familiar. The Mars gullies could potentially be a good place to house algae in real life.
The current missions NASA is conducting in reality will hopefully be more successful. Presently, there are two Mars rovers, Opportunity and Curiosity that send back images of the Red Planet. They will optimistically be able to capture images of the CO2 formations and send them back for analysis. That is, unless one of them goes into military mode like AMEE and decides to take on a mission of its own.
One thing is clear, the Mars gully is just the beginning. There is much to be discovered about Mars and there are countless possibilities for what could have been, what is and what will occur on the Martian surface. Hopefully, one day, life will be discovered on the Red Planet and the world can stop speculating and start analyzing.
Opinion by Nicole Drawc