NASA: «Life on Mars could be earlier than on Earth




NASA: «Life on Mars could be earlier than on Earth” March 15, 2013


Most recently, we wrote that the rover Kyuriositi found very interesting from the point of view of biology, the environment in the rock deposits of Mars. Whether Mars once boiled stormy life activity? And if so, what was it? NASA recent data suggest that life in the “red planet” could have existed long before the publication of the first terrestrial microorganisms.

“We found a potentially habitable environment that is so friendly to the possibility of life, that if there was water on Mars, you could safely drink it,” – said John P. Grottsinger, professor of geology at Caltech, who is the principal investigator of NASA missions to Mars . Recall, it was with his submission to the media broke the first sensations and that the red planet was discovered organic. – “For the last twenty years the modern microbiology learned that there are so primitive organisms that can get energy just lying on the rocks.”

“The range of chemical ingredients that we found in the sample, is impressive and suggests that the sulfates and sulfides could well be a source of chemical energy for microorganisms,” – says Paul Mahath, principal investigator for SAM tools in NASA.

“The first thing we want to know is whether conditions on Mars, where life could develop,” – said Michael Meyer, chief scientist Mars exploration program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. – “From what we have seen, the answer is clear: yes.”

So, on Mars could really be a life. But there was it?

About three billion years ago, conditions on Mars have changed dramatically: from a mass of only one tenth of the Earth, Mars has lost all its atmosphere. As a result, inside the planet cooled, volcanoes ceased operations, and the water froze or evaporated into space, leaving Mars cold and barren planet, which we see today.

Geological observations have shown that the Martian surface were the rivers and the sea about 3.5 billion years ago. The amount of water was such that the surface of the planet covered in deep ocean a mile or more. And being a planet warm enough to keep water in a liquid state, Mars was covered with a blanket of greenhouse gas carbon dioxide by 1000 times thicker than Earth is.

Carbon dioxide has disappeared almost completely. As water. “Either they have gone up or down,” – said Dave Bryan of the University of California at Berkeley.

Down – hence the bowels of the Red Planet. Water ice is known to be hiding under the ground, but the remains of carbon dioxide can be found in polar ice and in some mineral deposits. However, most scientists believe that most of the water in the atmosphere, just disappeared “up” into space.

“We know now that the water runs away from the Martian atmosphere, and that this happened in the past,” – said Bruce Dzhekoski from the University of Colorado.

Жизнь на Марсе

According to current estimates, the Martian atmosphere is losing about 100 tons a day, but these are not accurate. Dzhekoski led mission MAVEN, which in 2013 set itself the objective to assess the state of leakage Martian atmosphere.

MAVEN – which literally stands for “evolution of the Martian atmosphere and volatilization” – not only give an accurate assessment of the current leakage, but also be able to look back in time, determine how the upper atmosphere control the level of losses. MAVEN spacecraft at the moment is environmental testing on a space-based Lockheed Martin near Denver.

“The more we learn of the loss rate today, the more clearly we can see the past, when Mars was warmer and wetter,” – says Michael Combi University of Michigan. Raman and his colleagues modeled the outer shell of the atmosphere of Mars, called exosphere, where the particles begin their journey into space. As part of the research program of the NASA Mars group makes three-dimensional model of Mars, based on observations MAVEN, to tell exactly how much Martian water has gone to oblivion.

The main roads along which particles leave the planetary gravity, this ion flight, flight and a neutral impact erosion.

The last of these, the impact erosion prevailed 4 billion years ago, when the terrestrial planets bombarded huge chunks of space debris. Large “spikes” such as these push the atmosphere into space, and is also written to the surface water, and other materials.

But Mars has managed to keep a significant amount of air during the bombing. This is evidenced by the fact that 3.5 billion years ago, Mars was full of water – when the blow was less active. That’s why scientists are seeking other paths by which water can escape.

“MAVEN will be the first mission, focused on understanding the nature of the upper layer of the atmosphere and how it controls the level of leakage” – says Dzhekoski.

MAVEN project costing $ 485 million will carry eight instruments to measure the ion and neutral flight, and the structure and composition of the upper atmosphere. During the mission, which is planned for two years, he will also monitor solar winds, ultraviolet solar flux and solar storms, which are major factors affecting the rate of escape of the Martian atmosphere.

Жизнь на Марсе

A still from the documentary “Settling Mars» (Living on Mars, 2009)

One of the problems faced by researchers in the past, was an attempt to describe the “leak” that was going on all the 150 thousand square kilometers of the outer part of the surface of Mars. Orbit MAVEN will vary so that data leaks will be collected at different latitudes, spectra at different times of day. But the satellite can only be in one place at a time, so the need models, such as those with which the group combos to fill the gaps.

“These models are very necessary to us” – says Dzhekoski. – “They will allow us to piece together the measurements MAVEN, at different times, in different places, and we add them to other measurements made at another time and in another place.”

In trying to imagine all the losses that have occurred long ago, scientists must take into account all changes in solar emissions. Looking at the sun-like stars in the early stages of their lives, astronomers believed that our Sun was much more active in the past – with a lot of storms and ultraviolet radiation. Consequently, during this period of loss of atmosphere were more significant.

“We can not measure what the atmosphere was billions of years ago,” – he says. – “But we can measure it today, to assess the processes that affect its state, and then use the model to represent in other circumstances.”

In the end, any modeling needs a satellite that will test it in practice calculations. And satellites need a model to send him to the past, in the very beginning of the history of Mars.

Just because Mars reveal the secret of lost water.

Жизнь на Марсе

The reason for people to talk about potentially habitable environments on Mars, became the data that provided this week tools SAM (analyzing samples on Mars) and CheMin (chemistry and mineralogy). The data indicate that the zone of Yellowknife Bay (Cape Yellow Knife), which is now “picks” rover was the end of an ancient system of rivers and lakes, it is a “wet crib”, which might be pleased to develop microbes or other living activities . Rock consists of fine-grained mudstone containing clay minerals, sulfates and other chemical elements. This ancient wet environment, in contrast to many other on Mars, has not been oversaturated with oxygen, acids and salt.

Foot piece of the rock, in which Kyuriositi drilled a hole in order to get the first sample lies in the chain of ancient river channels coming out of the crater Gale. At the foot of the rock is also composed of fine-grained mudstone and indicative of “wet” period in its history. Clay minerals make up at least 20% of the sample.

These clay minerals are the product of the reaction with respect to fresh water and magmatic minerals (olivine), which are also present in the deposit. Reaction could occur within the cluster rainfall during precipitation and in the fall of sediment. The presence of calcium sulfate near clay suggests that the soil was neutral or slightly alkaline.

The scientists were surprised when they found that the mixture of less oxidized and not oxidized chemical energy source provides a huge number of microbes that are found in abundance on Earth. This partial oxidation first manifested when the drill brought to the surface of the soil gray instead of red.

Additional samples, which will drill Kyurisiti, will help to confirm the results of some studies did not fully analyze the chemical composition of the soil of Mars and its specificity.

Scientists plan to work with Kyuriositi in Yellowknife Bay area for many weeks before they begin the long journey to the center of the mound of Gale Crater, Mount Razor (Sharp). The study of rocks that make up the mountain, a preliminary analysis of the orbit which showed that the rocks are mostly composed of clay and sulfate minerals, providing more information about the duration and variety of habitat conditions.

Recall Kyuriositi rover, equipped with ten scientific instruments, held on Mars for seven months. Total mission is for 2 years, but as the experience of the predecessor Kyuriositi – Mars rover Opportunity – can seriously delayed. However, in 2020 at the Martian surface down follower of Kyuriositi.

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Tags: MAVEN , SAM , Life on Mars , Kyuriositi , Mars



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