Life on Mars is frequently discussed in the astronomic community since it is the closest planet to Earth. If Earth is overpopulated or life on Earth becomes difficult by some means and we are to find a new home planet, Mars is the first choice we have. It becomes relatively easier to move to mars than any other planet because it is the closest.

Life on Mars
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Before presenting thoughts on living on Mars in the future, we must have the knowledge of life on Mars previously. This could aid our purpose to establish Mars our second home.

Did mars harbour life previously? – The study of Mars

Starting from 1960 several missions have been attempted to Mars and have been a success. With initial missions comprising of flyby and orbiters in order to watch it closely, several rovers such as sojourner, opportunity, spirit and curiosity have also landed and curiosity is still operational on it. These rovers have collected the sample of the mud in mars and also generated valuable information regarding the composition and the structure of land on Mars.

The main purpose of sending these rovers is to find whether or not mars had harboured life in the past so that this could aid the possibility of life on Mars in the future. The study is moreover geological and the possibility of microbial life forms is also being searched. Apart from the ongoing missions, different missions are on the verge of being executed for further investigation. NASA has plans to send another rover to Mars in 2020, also the human mission is being prepared.

The rovers have studied the planet geologically. Different landforms, rocks, mud, etc. were studied but there has not been single powerful evidence of previously existed life. The availability of water in the solid form might have hinted the presence of life before but still, it does not sound convincing.

So, we lack evidence of life on mars but our study is progressing towards new findings that might someday clarify the existence or non-existence of any life forms on Mars.

Is life on Mars possible?

Yes, it might be. Mars has a water content in the form of solid i.e ice. The days in mars are as long as the day on Earth as well as the tilt of the axis for both is nearly the same. The solar irradiation is just half than that of Earth while the average temperature is too low. A year in mars is 687 days.

Though there are many similarities between Earth and Mars, the major prerequisites of life are not found in Mars. The majority of the atmosphere is covered by carbon dioxide with very low water vapour content. We need air and water to live. Even if there is water and air there should be an appropriate temperature in which our life can exist.

Although the sustainability of life has these prerequisites, we can create such an environment with such attributes in an isolated place. The isolation of a region of the planet so that we can live is something that sounds simple. But there is a more interesting hypothesis of colonizing mars called terraforming. Terraforming means inducing a modification on the planet so that the planet can harbour life.

Terraforming of Mars

Terraforming is a hypothetical transformation of a planet’s atmosphere to Earth-like atmosphere where life can exist. This hypothesis assumes that Mars had a warmer climate before and cooled down due to the conversion of atmospheric carbon to carbonates. So, this planet can be transformed into a warmer planet by the greenhouse effect induced by carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds.

The possibility of life on Mars on the basis of the data of rovers

Mars might not have a suitable climate for life now but the land structures and the compositions have always hinted the presence of water. Water as per our knowledge is the key factor for the presence of life since our science suggests that life on earth has originated from water. The search has always been about the existence of water and many things which have been found till date has hinted the presence of water in the past.

The rovers have found that there was a non-acidic environment on Mars in the past so that there could have been the possibility of life. Also, there are mineral deposits discovered by the rovers as if deposited by water. The recent discovery of NASA suggests that there are ice layers beneath the Martian surface as seen on the eroding slopes. These underground ice sheets have been buried for a long time.

Though an explanation to the formation of these ice sheets is a mystery till now, incoming future some insight will develop so that it will lead us to a new understanding about the climatic condition of mars before.

The facts and findings suggest the availability of water in mars in the past. Maybe someday we’ll find the truth about its past but now it has not got favourable climatic condition for humans to colonize it. Living on Mars would be as difficult as living in some region of space making a station but terraforming might work with the advancement of technology.

The search for the life forms in mars is still on and further missions are to be carried out for our better understanding of the universe as a whole, not just mars. And the main goal is understanding life, if the probability of life is not found then it will intensify our understanding of the origin of life from the comparative study relative to Earth.

There’s always hope for the new finding, a new more substantial clue of the life that existed in those Martian soil long before. So the quest is all about the presence of life on Mars in past rather than living on Mars. But someday we might live on mars with the advancement of technologies and validation of terraforming.

There is the equally likely case that our interpretation of life is just as ours (depending upon oxygen and water) might be false. Maybe the Martians are made up of different elements and breathe carbon dioxide, who knows?

Ashwin Khadka is a PhD Scholar in Nano Energy and Thermofluid Lab in Korea University, Republic of Korea under Korean Government Scholarship Program. He has a Masters Degree in Physics from Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Nepal. He is a science enthusiast, researcher and writer.