NASA chief scientist Jim Green, says we’re just years away from finding life on Mars, but the world is not ready for the “revolutionary” implications of the discovery as two Mars-bound rovers –from NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA)– are scheduled to launch next year and will land on the red planet by March 2021 and one or both could find evidence of life within months. The discovery will start a whole new line of thinking, says Green. “I don’t think we’re prepared for the results. I’ve been worried about that because I think we’re close to finding it and making some announcements,” he told Great Britain’s The Telegraph.
The European Space Agency’s (ESA) ExoMars program (Exobiology on Mars) involves a series of missions that have been designed to understand if life ever existed on Mars. The ExoMars rover that will be conducting a search for life on the red planet is named Rosalind Franklin and will have a combined capability to roam around Mars and study the planet at depth.
Unlike Earth, Mars might actually be an easier to place to find evidence of early life because it hasn’t gone through the same constant upheaval of plate tectonic activity, which metamorphoses and even buries the oldest, life-bearing rocks. And the evidence could be well preserved because it’s been a few billion years since Mars had a thick atmosphere and surface water transforming the landscape.
Two ancient sites on Mars that hosted an abundance of water in the planet’s early history have been recommended as the final candidates for the landing site of the 2020 ExoMars rover and surface science platform: Oxia Planum and Mawrth Vallis.
“Both candidate sites would explore a period of ancient martian history that hasn’t been studied by previous missions,” said Jorge Vago, ESA’s ExoMars rover project scientist.
The sites lie just north of the equator, in a region with many channels cutting through from the southern highlands to the northern lowlands. As such, they preserve a rich record of geological history from the planet’s wetter past billions of years ago, and are prime targets for missions like ExoMars that are searching for signatures of past life on Mars.
Green also mused about advanced alien life: “There is no reason to think that there isn’t civilizations elsewhere, because we are finding exoplanets all over the place.”
Image top of page: Ocean World of Ancient Mars