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It has been the subject of science fiction films, novels, and even a classic Bugs Bunny cartoon: Life on Mars.
Perhaps it’s only natural that we’d be fascinated with Mars since it’s located so close to Earth, but is it really possible that there was ever life on the Red Planet? It’s beginning to look like the answer is an emphatic yes.
According to a recent article in Ancient Origins, we’ve know for years that there was once water on Mars, but that alone isn’t enough to prove there was life:
“The existence of liquid water on Mars, alone, wouldn’t guarantee it was inhabited. In fact, for a long time it was believed that surface water on Mars would have been highly acidic and therefore incapable of supporting living creatures.”
But a 2013 discovery by NASA is what convinced many researchers that there was indeed life on Mars:
“A … discovery by NASA’s Mars Rover Opportunity proved that at least some of the water that ran across the surface of Mars in ancient times carried a neutral pH , which means it was benign and could be consumed. This was an extremely significant finding by the Opportunity rover, since it proved that water quality on Mars in the distant past would not have been a barrier to the evolution and development of living species.”
Steve Squyres, a Cornell University professor who was the lead investigator on the Opportunity Rover project, explains the importance of the 2013 data:
“This is water that you could drink. This is water that was probably much more favorable in its chemistry, in its pH, in its levels of acidity … for the kind of chemistry that could lead to the origin of life.”
Of course, water doesn’t definitively prove that there was life on Mars billions of years ago. But it does suggest that the continued search for fossil evidence or even living organisms, is indeed worthwhile, despite what some critics may believe.
All of this raises yet another question: If there was life on Mars, what was it like? That too is the subject of speculation, but what we know about the planet allows us to make some reasonable hypotheses:
“The first life forms on Earth made their appearance around 4.1 or 4.2 billion years ago. After that it took another 1.5 billion years or so for microorganisms to develop the capacity to survive on land. Evolution on land and in the sea continued slowly from that point on: it took approximately two billion more years for land-based plants and animals to develop (which is less than 800 million years ago from now).
“If we assume a similar course of evolution for Mars, it seems clear that life never would have had the chance to evolve beyond a primitive, unsophisticated level. The devastating event that ripped away Mars’s thick atmosphere would have stopped evolution in its tracks, giving life no chance to take any further steps.”
But even primitive life tells us that we have not always been alone in the solar system. It does indeed appear that life was once sustainable on Mars, and might be again one day for all we know. That within itself is reason for celebration, if only because it suggests we may also find other signs of life on other planets one day.
Here’s more on what it means that water was found on Mars:
Featured Image Via Pixabay