New study suggests life possible on large parts of Mars

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Australian scientists studying the living conditions on Mars believe the red planet is habitable with large regions that could ‘sustain life’.

A group of astrobiologists from the Australian National University in Canberra estimated that as much as three per cent of Mars is habitable compared to Earth’s one per cent of volume – from core to upper atmosphere – is occupied by life. The ANU team is comparing models of temperature and pressure conditions of both Earth and Mars to estimate how much liveable both planets are.

“What we tried to do, simply, was take almost all of the information we could and put it together and say ‘is the big picture consistent with there being life on Mars?’,” Charley Lineweaver, team leader of the study group, told AFP on Monday.

“And the simple answer is yes… There are large regions of Mars that are compatible with terrestrial life.”

LIVEABLE MARS

Lineweaver also pointed out that previous studies on Mars’ living conditions took a “piecemeal” approach whereas his team came up with a “comprehensive compilation” of the entire red planet by using decades of data.

The Australian astrobiologist insisted his study was the “best estimate yet published on how habitable Mars is to terrestrial microbes” which is very significant given mankind’s evolution from microbial life.

“It’s not important if you want to figure out what the laws of physics are and you want to talk to some intelligent aliens who could build spaceships,” he said.

“If you’re interested in the origin of life and how likely life is to get started on other planets, that’s what relevant here.”

Scientists have claimed the discovery of frozen water at the poles on Mars. Martian average temperature is -63 degrees Celcius (-81 Fahrenheit) whereas average Earth’s surface temperature is around 14 degrees Celcius (57.2 Fahrenheit).

The low-pressure environment on the red planet means water will vaporise on the surface and therefore cannot exist. However, Lineweaver insists conditions are favourable for life underground where added pressure required is achieved by the weight of the soil. Micro-ogranisms can also flourish by tapping to the heat emanated from the planet’s core.

EXPLORER

Curiosity Rover, NASA’s largest and most sophisticated robotic explorer ever built, is on its way to Mars and is due to make its landing on the red planet’s surface in 2012.

The probe is armed with a laser beam that will zap rocks; a laboratory that will analyse the contents;? sensors that will help measure temperature; drill and a robotic arm for excavation and cameras to explore the martian surface.

The NASA space craft is scheduled to land at the Gale Crater near the Mars’ equator. Scientists at US space agency expect the five kilometre high sediment mountain will reveal clues about the planet’s wetter past.

However, the Australian University’s astrobiology team is not pinning a lot of hopes on the NASA mission due to its inability to dig deep into the surface to find clues about life that many scientists believe once originated on Mars. NASA says the explorer would still be able to examine at least the edges of the Martian crater.

“But these have been exposed for a long time and therefore are probably devoid of volatiles and they are not warm like they used to be,” he said.

Lineweaver’s paper was published Monday in the scientific journal Astrobiology.

(Written by Moign Khawaja with input from AFP)

 

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