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It is likely, though not certain, that if life ever evolved on Mars, it did so in the presence of a long-standing supply of water. On Mars, we will therefore search for evidence of life in areas where liquid water was once stable, and below the surface where it still might exist today.
Perhaps there might also be some current "hot spots" on Mars where hydrothermal pools like those at Yellowstone provide places for life.
Recent data from Mars Global Surveyor suggest that liquid water may exist just below the surface in rare places on the planet, and the Mars Odyssey will be mapping subsurface water reservoirs on a global scale. We know that water ice is present at the Martian poles, and these areas will be good places to search for evidence of life as well. In addition to liquid water, life also needs energy. Therefore, future missions will also be on the lookout for energy sources other than sunlight, since life on the surface of Mars is unlikely given the presence of "superoxides" that break down organic carbon-based molecules on which life is based.
Here on Earth, we find life in many places where sunlight never reaches--at dark ocean depths, inside rocks, and deep below the surface.
Life on Mars? The Search for Signs Goes Back Centuries
Chemical and geothermal energy, for example, are also energy sources used by life forms on Earth. Perhaps tiny, subsurface microbes on Mars could use such energy sources too.
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NASA will also look for life on Mars by searching for telltale markers, or biosignatures, of current and past life. The element carbon, for instance, is a fundamental building block of life. Knowing where carbon is present and in what form would tell us a lot about where life might have developed.
Former NASA Scientist “Convinced” We Already Found Life on Mars
We know that most of the current Martian atmosphere consists of carbon dioxide. Present-day Mars has two permanent polar ice caps and frozen water beneath its permafrost, but its temperature and atmospheric pressure are too low for water to exist in liquid form.
High-resolution photographs, however, have revealed features that are consistent with liquid water, including gullies, channels and lake basins. According to NASA scientists, rocks collected by the Mars rover Spirit in were found to contain high concentrations of carbonate.
From Habitability to Life on Mars
These findings, which were published in the journal Science, indicate that Mars once had a wet, non-acidic environment that may have been favorable for life. If the primordial ocean hypothesis is correct, where did all the Martian water go? But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!
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