LIFE ON MARS
"Does Mars harbor life?" A question humanity has been pondering upon for decades. But to dig out the answers, we must know where to look on the Red planet to affirm our most cherished belief. The recent success of Perseverance Rover landing on Mars on February 2021, humanity is all set to decipher the mystery of life on the Red Planet. Much to our dismay, we know that there are no Little Green Men Civilizations on Mars. The real question is what are the things we need to look for to determine Life on the planet ? Luckily humanity has carried out an extensive mars exploration program, including landers, rovers, orbiters for decades, with the first manned mission being planned for early 2030’s. These robust programs have allowed comprehensive mapping of the planet and accumulation of crucial data about the composition and environment of the planet.
It is evident that in ancient times, the Martian Climatic conditions were warmer and comparatively favorable to support microscopic life, with puddles of primordial soup scattered around warmer parts of the planet. The Curiosity rover has revealed Gale Crater was the location where one of many water lakes containing microscopic life existed three billion years ago. The new rover is equipped with a payload of fine tuned instruments for collecting vital information of any bio signatures hidden on the planet. But the question is where to look to amplify our chances to detect life ?, utilizing data from past missions coupled with more accurate data from rovers and landers Nasa is able to determine about thirty candidate sites with brimming potential to contain evidence of life. The Perseverance mission and NASA has crowned the Jezero crater as the most potentially viable site to search for evidence of life on Mars.
The Jezero Mystery
Jerzero carter is an ancient crater about 49 km (30 miles) across, formed by the collision of a gigantic meteorite in the northern hemisphere of the planet (18.38°N 77.58°E) located on the western margin of the ancient Isidis Impact basin. What intrigues Astro biologists about this crater is the activities that occurred in the crater 3.5 billion years ago. Primeval rivers breached the rim of the crater on the western side, leading to formation of river delta. From the study of river deltas on the Earth, we know that they typically build outwards into lakes as sediment carried by the associated river enters the lake, slows down, and is deposited. As this process continues, the delta builds out over the top of lake beds and can bury and preserve delicate and subtle signatures of past life. These subtle signs or Biosignatures are what Perseverance will be on look out for once it reaches the floor of the cater and investigates lake beds and delta deposits.
The Perseverance with its cutting edge technology and improved instruments will help humanity to unravel the mysteries of ancient life buried under the rusted soil. The New Rover will initiate the process of sample collection to be returned to Earth whose importance cannot be exaggerated. Whether or not evidence of past life is found by Perseverance’s instruments, the legacy enabled by samples the rover collects will be the “scientific gift that keeps on giving”. Once returned to Earth by a future mission, these Mars samples can be subjected to more detailed analysis by a much wider set of instruments than can be carried by Perseverance.
India with the launch of Mangalyaan has established itself as a viable contender in “New Space Race” and exploring new horizons of outer space and searching for our new HOME!!. The Mangalyaan launched in 2013 is equipped with mapping instruments laying the foundation for the first Indian Martian Rover in near future.
With the launch of Perseverance, Mangalyaan and numerous Martian probes and rovers, we have ushered into a new era of space exploration and have taken a mammoth step to validate our most cherished belief that “We are Not Alone” in the universe.