Mars Exploration: Surface
& Orbital Reconnaissance

Introduction: Is There Life On Mars? continued

Whether or not Mars proves to harbour life the likelihood of our detecting it on another world is greater now than ever before: we have to date identified 2695 planetary systems around other stars amounting to a total of 3594 extra-solar planets (Extrasolar Planet Encyclopaedia), the closest being only 4.24 light years away in Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system beyond our Sun. This world, announced in Nature on August 24th, 2016, is called Proxima Centauri b after the star it orbits; it is of 1.3 Earth masses and at just the right distance from its star to support water - if it has an atmosphere and a magnetic field. Farther away, about 39 light-years, and also orbiting in the habitable zone and so capable of supporting liquid water, is the recently discovered system (2016) of seven earth-sized planets around the dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 and this after searching only fifty ultracool (dwarf) stars; the successor to the TRAPPIST telescope, SPECULOOS, will look at the nearest 500 such stars. The James Webb Telescope, to be launched next year, will also search for TRAPPIST-type planets, which will allow us to study them in detail and search for bio-signatures. See SPECULOOS Telescope for the details. As time passes it would seem we are drawing ever closer to the discovery of another world much like our own, capable of supporting water and generating life.

I would not, however, count Mars out just yet, it might just surprise you and besides, unlike ‘Terra Nova’ far out among the stars, this is a world that human beings can set foot on and within the next decade we might well be doing so. (Read about Mars One's plans to establish a permanent settlement by 2026.)

One final thought: It has been determined that within a rock micro-organisms are capable of surviving being flung from a planet's surface into the vacuum of space and later falling into another world's atmosphere; if, therefore, living organisms are found on Mars it might just be that they or their ancestors did not originate there, they might have come from Earth or some other unknown body long ago. If, however, it turned out that those living organisms were indigenous to Mars then finally we would have indisputable evidence of the emergence of life on more than one world in our galaxy and that would revolutionize the way in which we view our universe and our place within it.

References:

1. David Lasser, The Conquest of Space, Hurst & Blackett, London 1932 [First Published 1931].

2. Steven Dick, The Biological Universe: The Twentieth Century Extra-Terrestrial Life Debate and the Limits of Science, Cambridge, 1999.

3. Willy Ley, Chesley Bonestell, The Conquest of Space, Purnell and Sons Ltd, London, 1950 [First Published 1949].

4. Michael Hoskin, Cambridge Illustrated History of Astronomy, Cambridge University Press, 1997.

5. BBC Television Documentary on the Viking Spacecraft, Hosted by James Burke: personal audio recording, 1976.

6. R.B. Dyce, 'Radar Studies of the Planets' in Surfaces and Interiors of Planets and Satellites, Dollfus, A. ed., London, New York Academic Press, 1970.

7. Alfred Russel Wallace, Man's Place In The Universe, London: Chapman and Hall, 1912 [First Published 1903].

8. Agnes M. Clerke, The System Of The Stars, London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1890.