Space Adventure

Martian Atmosphere | NASA Missions | Mars Pathfinder

Microbes on Mars?

Is there life or has there ever been life elsewhere in our Solar System? If so, then Mars, the fourth planet from the sun, may be the most likely candidate of all planets for life, since it is most similar to Earth. Today, most scientists agree that Mars has no life, but there is speculation that life may have flourished on Mars at one time.

Shortly after Mars was formed, it may have had more atmosphere, more water and more heat - all conditions that would make it more likely to support life. Today, Mars is cooler, has little water, and has a thin atmosphere composed mostly of carbon dioxide. All these conditions are unlikely to support life.

Ever since people have gazed upon the red planet Mars, they have wondered whether life exists on that planet. In 1877 the Italian astronomer, Giovanni Schiaparelli, saw lines on Mars, which people later assumed to be canals built by intelligent beings. It wasn't until the later part of this century that this idea was dismissed. Scientists had several lines of evidence to believe that no life exists on Mars.

In early August, 1996, NASA released evidence that may (or may not) indicate that microscopic organisms similar to Earthly bacteria lived on Mars early in the planet's history. Check out the NASA Life on Mars site for further information.

 Martian Bacillus?

Martian Atmosphere: No Life

One piece of evidence convincing people that Mars has no life came from observing the Martian atmosphere. British scientist James Lovelock found that the Martian atmosphere was not like the atmosphere that would be expected for a planet that was alive. Instead, the atmosphere of Mars is like a planet with no life. A live planet, like Earth, contains gases that react with one another in the atmosphere, like oxygen produced by photosynthesis and methane produced by bacteria. Without constant replenishment from living organisms, these reactive gases would spontaneously combine with one another, forming stable, unreactive gases, like those found in the Martian atmosphere.

NASA Past Missions

The National Air and Space Administration (NASA) has sent several missions to Mars to investigate whether life exists on Mars. In 1965, Mariner 4 sent back the first close up images of the surface of Mars. These pictures showed Mars to be a dry, lifeless desert, and contributed to the idea that there is no life on Mars. In 1972, Mariner 9 showed dried up water ways on the surface of Mars. Finding these water ways fueled speculation that life may have existed previously on Mars. In 1976 the first spacecraft from Earth landed on Mars. It performed three experiments to search for life on Mars. No life was detected.

Mars Pathfinder

There is a possibility that life may have existed on Mars, but is now extinct.In 1997, NASA landed the Mars Pathfinder on the surface of Mars to search for hints of past life. This explorer landed near a site where life could have existed. This area, called the Ares Vallis, is a site that appears to have been hot and wet at one time. This area may have been like the hot springs of Yellowstone, where microbes flourish today. Perhaps if these ancient microbes existed, some of them may have gotten trapped in minerals and now remain as tiny fossils.

Try This!

The next time you hear that Mars is in view, go look at it. Can you tell if life ever existed on Mars?