Mars probe to begin hunt for signs of alien life
By T.K. Randall
April 11, 2018 · 14 comments
Could the Trace Gas Orbiter find evidence of methane on Mars ? Image Credit: ESA
The European Space Agency's Trace Gas Orbiter will be starting its mission within the next two weeks.
The probe, which has spent the last year achieving a stable orbit around the Red Planet, will analyze the Martian atmosphere for gases indicative of geological or biological activity on the surface.
"This is a major milestone for our ExoMars program and a fantastic achievement for Europe," said mission manager Pia Mitschdoerfer.
"We have reached this orbit for the first time through aerobraking and with the heaviest orbiter ever sent to the Red Planet, ready to start searching for signs of life from orbit."
The most important thing that the team will be keeping an eye out for is methane - a gas that is primarily produced by living organisms. NASA's Curiosity rover previously picked up what was believed to be traces of methane on Mars, however the findings were inconclusive.
Because methane on Mars is only expected to have a shelf life of around 400 years, if the Trace Gas Orbiter does detect any then it will mean that it was produced relatively recently.
It will however be important to rule out geological processes such as volcanic activity.
"We have the sensitivity to detect rare gases in minute proportions, with the potential to discover if Mars is still active today - biologically or geologically speaking," said ESA's Hakan Svedhem.
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