Will the ExoMars lander find evidence of life on Mars ? Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Europe and Russia are launching a joint mission next week to land a spacecraft on the surface of Mars.
The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) will be blasting off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 14 and will arrive at its destination on October 19.
If all goes according to plan a small lander called Schiaparelli will detach from the main spacecraft and head down to the Martian surface where it will monitor the planet's atmosphere for signs of methane - a gas that could indicate the presence of extraterrestrial life forms.
The probe's instruments, which are much more sensitive than those on any previous lander, will be capable of analyzing any traces of methane in an effort to determine what might be producing it.
If the gas is found to be accompanied by sulphur dioxide for instance and is linked to geological features on the surface then it is most likely to be the product of volcanic activity.
Methane laced with isotope carbon-12 on the other hand could be potentially biological in origin.
"Detecting methane by itself doesn’t tell you whether it is produced biologically or geologically – you need to look at the whole suite of atmospheric behavior," said planetary scientist Bruce Jakosky.
"That would be considered the home run for TGO, to define the source of methane."
The Trace Gas Orbiter is the first of two ESA missions designed to seek out life on Mars with the second - the ExoMars rover - due to launch in 2018 for a landing early the following year.
Source: New Scientist | Comments (5)