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Mars probe to begin hunt for signs of alien life


Posted on Wednesday, 11 April, 2018 | Comment icon 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.

Source: UPI.com | Comments (14)

Tags: Mars, Life

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #5 Posted by Sundew on 29 April, 2018, 17:57
I would guess any life on Mars is, or was, similar to the extremophiles we have on Earth; able to live with chemicals/radiation that might kill most "common" life forms. Many of them exist in harsh environments and consume compounds other organisms cannot. I'm not sure what they excrete or exhale in the process, but I wonder if all biological organisms on Earth give off Methane and whether any extremophile organisms on Mars would as well? Could life be so exotic compared with what we are familiar with that we might not readily recognize it as life so easily?
Comment icon #6 Posted by fred_mc on 29 April, 2018, 18:57
Very interesting. Excited to see the results.
Comment icon #7 Posted by bison on 29 April, 2018, 22:34
Methanogen bacteria are widely found on Earth. They metabolize carbon dioxide and water and excrete methane. They can exist below the surface, within what we think of as 'solid' rock. They appear to be a good model for the sort of living organisms we might find on Mars. If below the surface, they could avoid exposure to harmful radiation, and could have access to a dependable source of water. 
Comment icon #8 Posted by Merc14 on 30 April, 2018, 1:22
I'm not even going to speculate on this one but enjoy reading other's thoughts.  Can't wait to see what she finds!
Comment icon #9 Posted by Aardvark-DK on 30 April, 2018, 7:27
If biological, it might not be such a good idea to take a sample back to earth, with a sample mission, or ?
Comment icon #10 Posted by Mr.United_Nations on 30 April, 2018, 9:25
Regardless of the results, itvis an exciting mission for all those involved
Comment icon #11 Posted by Calibeliever on 30 April, 2018, 17:48
Excited to see the results. Even if the source turns out to be geological, that will be a significant result. I've had my ears perked up ever since they discovered methane a few years back and hopefully this will get them closer to nailing it down.  
Comment icon #12 Posted by AudioAndroid on 6 May, 2018, 12:46
Auntie Entity: For God's sake, what now? Master Blaster: Who run MARS?
Comment icon #13 Posted by Vilasarius on 6 May, 2018, 19:45
A biological discovery would be the single most important discovery in the history of mankind - life elsewhere in the universe.
Comment icon #14 Posted by bison on 6 May, 2018, 21:07
Earth and Mars have been exchanging materials for billions of years. A sizable impact on either world can blast soil, rock, and maybe life, from one to the other. Mars, being substantially smaller and less dense probably cooled enough to be hospitable to life, before Earth did. There's a reasonable chance, then, that Earth was seeded with life from the Red Planet.    


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