An exciting discovery by NASA’s Curiosity rover has strengthened the idea that Mars may have once been suitable for life. The chance finding of organic material in an ancient lake bed suggests Mars once held the foodstuffs necessary for life.
Although not conclusive, these findings add to the growing evidence for previous life on Mars, with seasonal methane and liquid water providing cause for excitement. Mars is inhospitable for now, but may not have always been.
And with that, the tantalising hope that life may exist beyond earth.
Curiosity’s Discovery Of Organic Molecules
The discovery of these ‘organic molecules’ asks many questions. We cannot tell exactly where they came from, perhaps remnants of long dead organisms, something crash landed from space or indeed simply ancient foodstuffs.
But what we can say is that these molecules, formed of carbon, oxygen and other elements fundamental to life as we know it, could very much suggest something significant. Whilst it is important to note that these structures can be created without life, life can’t exist without them.
“With these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life. ” – Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA Science Directorate.
Food For Thought
Although direct evidence of life on Mar’s is yet to be discovered, if at all, these new findings tell us that the environment may have supported it. Biological creatures like we subsist on organic compounds for energy, and this is consistent down the food chain.
There is little reason to thing extra-terrestrial life would be that different. In fact, many believe that the ingredients for simple life are abundant enough that finding alien organisms is almost a certainty. And the chances are that, on a fundamental level at least, we will all be built of the same stuff.
And with that, makes a strong case for a similar ecological energy source. Jennifer Eigenbrode, NASA biogeochemist says of the finding;
“It is not telling us that life was there, but it is saying that everything organisms really needed to live in that kind of environment, all of that was there.”
A New Direction In Ancient Footsteps
Although direct evidence of extra-terrestrial life eludes us, the chances are good. Although the paucity of interstellar craft and signals presents some concerning questions, it may be that life is abundant between the stars.
And you have to look no further than your own back yard to find out why. It is likely made of common stuff.
Whilst we imagine aliens as, well, very alien, very basic life may be a natural inevitability. Current theories of the origins of life on earth centre around the unconscious replication of favourable molecules, building more complex structures over time.
Eventually, these would become us and everything else that breathes, grows and dies. And the more we learn, the more beautiful and interconnected it all becomes.
Given the vast numbers at hand, i.e trillions of stars, innumerable planets and billions of years, chances are that Curiosity’s discovery may be just the first of a truly cosmic collection.
So what do you think, is there life out there? What does it mean for us? Let us know in the comments below.
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The opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr Janaway alone and may not represent those of his affiliates. Featured image courtesy of Flickr.