The Mars Polar Lander cost the average American the price of half a cheeseburger. A human lander would cost the average American more — perhaps even ten cheeseburgers! So be it. That is no great sacrifice.
-JONAH GOLDBERG, National Review Online, May 3, 2000
This week, Seed Magazine is doing a special on extraterrestrial life in the Universe. They cover a lot of ground, including whether life would necessarily look like life on Earth, where the likely places are to find it, and endeavors towards that end.
And they approached me to write an article for them about Mars. An excerpt is below:
But the closest reasonable place to look for life outside Earth? That has to be Mars. Today, Mars is dry, desolate, and frozen. Its atmosphere is so thin that it would take 140 Martian atmospheres all stacked atop one another to give you the same pressure we find here on Earth. Why would we even consider a place like this to be hospitable to life? There are three pieces to the argument: imaging from space, exploration of the soil, and the theory of Mars’ history.
So finally, we come to the theory side, where we try to put these observations together. Clearly, from the observations of riverbeds, discoveries of unusual minerals on the surface, and frozen water just beneath the soil’s surface, Mars wasn’t always like it is now. It used to have liquid water, which means it used to have a thicker atmosphere. Like all planets at the beginning of the solar system, Mars probably had a molten core that produced a strong magnetic field, shielding it from solar radiation and keeping the atmosphere intact. That means water, water everywhere! On Earth, everywhere there’s water, there’s life. Was the same true on Mars?
You can read the full article here, and don’t worry, I’m not hiding anything. I don’t know whether there was life on Mars or not, but based on what I know about abiogenesis and early Martian conditions, I think there’s a good chance there once was.
So read the articles, and let me know your opinions! What do you think we’ll find when we finally do go and look for life on Mars?