Field of Science

Evidence says no life on Mars

Andrew Knoll, Harvard paleontologist, gave a talk at Harvey Mudd College this evening on the paleontology of the early fossils on Earth. He is also involved in the exploration of Mars, and during the question session he shared that the evidence from rocks and chemicals points to a conclusion that was new to me. I should have said it stunned me, but I'm not easily stunned.

The tentative conclusion from the exploration is that Mars has never been anything like Earth in terms of life. Yes, there has been water, but very salty and acidic water which is unsuitable for life:
  • Andrew Knoll said that the real question isn't whether there has been water on Mars, because surely there has been. The question is whether that water is habitable for life as we know it.
  • Unfortunately for people who want to meet alien life, the prognosis is not good. Chemical and mineral evidence suggests that water on the planet is so salty and acidic that it wouln't support any organisms we know. "Water on Mars would be challenging for life as we know it," he said.
Ironically, I take some comfort in this. It would arguably be much more exiting to find life, or even signs of past life, but in some manner also depressing. The interpretation would have been that while life had originated on another planet, it had also succumbed. I'm a little pleased that such a doomsday verdict need not be true.

Anyhow, there's always Jupiter's moon, Europa, which has some sort of ocean beneath an icy crust.



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