Finding life in the void of space...
Or at least on Mars. That's the goal anyway. This interview with astrobiologist Nathalie Cabrol takes a look at just how we're trying to achieve it. As she says:
“It’s been so difficult. Because we haven’t looked yet!”
Wait, we haven't looked? What about all the space probes and rovers we've sent to that planet? Shouldn't we have enough analysis in to determine if there is or ever was biological matter present? This is to say nothing of all of the Mars anomalies cataloged by Richard Hoagland at the Enterprise Mission!
Well, let's disregard that latter point for a moment. A healthy, lengthy moment, preferably.
The Viking missions were not designed knowing what we now know about Mars. That plus the technical limits of the 1970s placed confines on the search capabilities. We've learned more from the rovers, but at the end of the day, we still don't quite know what to look for or how to find it. If there ever was life on Mars, what traces would it leave?
Dr. Cabrol has been searching out places on Earth that might lend information as to the plausibility of life on Mars, magnanimously enduring hardships so that we might learn more. These places or "analog sites" are areas where conditions might mimic those of early Mars. Among these is the high Andes where UV radiation from the Sun requires SPF 100. The point of such research is not entirely to see if organisms can still exist in such conditions, but to determine what UV radiation does to the record of life, the "biosignature." How does it change chemistry?
Like many others far more informed than I am, I'm almost positive there's no intelligent life on Mars. There probably isn't even any sizable exo-life. Hard for that to come about when solar winds stripped away your planet's magnetic field. In fact, Cabrol places a big, wet blanket of logic on any of those futile hopes by saying we're looking for something "microbial at best." When you think about it, even that would be an amazing find. Failing anything living, I'd settle for a really cool fossil find.
There are plans at NASA to send another rover to Mars in 2020. The primary goal of this mission will be to "seek out new life" if I may borrow a phrase. I'm disappointed that it appears the agency is making very few strides towards sending humans there, but I guess that's why we have the private sector.
Until then, play around with the Mars version of Google Earth and see what you can find.
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