Scientists have been meeting to talk about the prospects of finding life on Mars.
Questions still linger positively or negatively about whether life exists on Mars because the right instruments haven’t been available. The instruments needed are being developed now and are being refined for future missions. The main challenge is to get them on board a future spacecraft knowing what kinds of compounds to look for and knowing exactly where to look.
It may be a good idea to postpone any future manned missions to Mars until unmanned missions get the information needed so that astronauts can land in the area most hospitable to life. Unfortunately NASA budget cuts could jeopardise any future unmanned mission.
The Mars science laboratory is one mission that is notable. It is called curiosity and it is scheduled for launch in November costing $2.5 billion. It is nuclear powered and carries 10 science instruments to try and determine if conditions suitable for life exists.
In 2015 another mission to Mars is scheduled which is called the Exo Mars trace gas orbiter. Five science instruments are carried and study gases in the atmosphere of Mars looking for signs of biological or geological activity.
The most important instruments in future missions will be those that can detect organic nitrogen. Nitrogen is essential for life on Earth and scientists are convinced that if there is life on Mars it will contain nitrogen.
Life on the surface of Mars is not as likely as life underneath the surface. Mars’s surface has been bombarded for billions of years by cosmic and ultraviolet rays which has most probably destroyed organic matter. Organic matter 1 m or so beneath the surface may be protected against the radiation.
Plans are also afoot to search the atmosphere of Mars for life. They will be mostly searching for methane which is the largest component of natural gas. NASA scientists believe that Mars is emitting` plumes of methane on parts of the planet. This could mean bacteria and other organisms.