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If you want to find life on Mars, here's how to do it

By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 22nd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Scientists have published a new theory that explains where life could have once existed on Mars, and how it might be found. The theory is based on what we know about the natural development of life on Earth and even locates a prime spot to conduct the search.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Published Monday in the journal, Nature Geoscience, the theory suggests scientists might find evidence for life on Mars by examining a particular impact crater.

According to Professor John Parnell and Dr. Joseph Michalski, a planetary Geologists at the Natural History Museum in England, a particular crater might be just to place to search for life on Mars.

Parnell told the Telegraph, "We could be so close to discovering if there is, or was, life on Mars. We know from studies that a substantial proportion of all life on Earth is also in the subsurface and by studying the McLaughlin Crater we can see similar conditions beneath the surface of Mars thanks to observations on the rocks brought up by the meteorite strike."

Parnell explained why  looking at the crater is so critical to finding life.

"There can be no life on the surface of Mars because it is bathed in radiation and it's completely frozen. However, life in the sub surface would be protected from that. And there is no reason why there isn't bacteria or other microbes that were or still are living in the small cracks well below the surface of Mars. One of the other things we have discussed in our paper is that this bacteria could be living off hydrogen, which is exactly the same as what microbes beneath the surface of the Earth are doing too. Unfortunately, we won't find any evidence of animals as the most complex life you might get in the sub surface would be fungi. But fungi aren't even that far removed from plants and animals, so I think you could say that life on Mars could be complex, but small."

There are a number of problems in the search for life on Mars, chiefly, getting below the surface far enough to find layers of strata where life may have, or still does exist. Robot vehicles can only be built so large and are limited in what equipment they can carry. They cannot possibly drill more than a few feet below the surface.

However, where man fails, nature succeeds. Meteors, some quite large, have struck Mars throughout the planet's history. When a large meteor impacts the surface, it forms a crater, sometimes excavating hundreds of meters deep, exposing the strata beneath. A craft that is capable of testing these layers can effectively study Martian history since each layer would be specific to a particular era of geologic activity.

Mars has an added advantage of being a tectonically stable planet with little erosion. That means layers of sediment would be preserved for billions of years whereas on Earth such preservation is remarkably rare.

So, if at any time in history, life has ever existed on Mars, the odds are very good that examining a feature such as the McLaughlin Crater, they can rule almost conclusively about the question Martian of life.

In the meantime, research continues with what tools scientists have. Currently, there are five active scientific missions on Mars. That number may increase within the next two years as India sends its first mission to the Red Planet in November and the European Space Agency has another mission slated for 2016. Several other agencies, including NASA will send further missions in the years ahead as the pace of research accelerates.

However, a mission to the McLaughlin Crater is not in the works - yet.

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