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  • Writer's pictureCelestial Events SA

Perseverance - Searching for Life on Mars

As mankind continues to rape the natural environment of its resources, and does irreparable damage to its own home, the future of our blue planet looks bleak. Whether it be global warming or a global pandemic, many scientists predict the the next mass extinction event is not far away, if it hasn’t already begun. To help our envoronment, we must better understand it. However, we have nothing to compare our world to...

Life is fragile; taking time to evolve and to adapt to its surroundings. The earliest organisms found on Earth were simple-celled and had equally simple needs: Live and reproduce. The simplistic nature of their needs were matched by the simplistic nature of their requirements.

3.4 billion year old fossilized stromatolite in Strelley Pool Chert, Australia

Image Credit: Wikipedia

Life, as we know it, requires 3 basic things:

* An Energy Source to utilise

* A Liquid Medium for locomotion and the dissolution of organic molecules for absorption.

* Biogenic Elements (elements required for biological processes)

But Earth is not the only body in the solar system that shows evidence of these conditions… Perhaps, somewhere out there in the abyss, there is a second utopia to be discovered?

On the surface of it (pun intended), Mars is an inhospitable place. Its tenuous, CO2 rich atmosphere offers very little protection from the solar radiation, and the low atmospheric pressure means that liquid volatiles such as water cannot exist on its surface. However, ancient Mars was a very different place….

The Curiosity Rover on the wall of the Gale Crater

Image Credit: NASA

Evidence of previous missions has shown that, before the relentless solar winds stripped away the majority of its atmosphere, Mar was warm and wet, even tropical in its climate. What is to say that life did not take hold in this ancient world, albeit temporarily?

The 30th July 2020 was a red-letter day in the history of space exploration. After years of planning, NASA’s Perseverance rover was finally launched from Cape Canaveral. Its mission is simple: to seek out signs of life past and present on the Red Planet.

Perseverance with its impressive payload of scientific equipment

Image Credit: NASA

Finding life on Mars has long been at the heart of science fiction, but recent observations and discoveries have made it a genuine possibility.

In only the last 5 years, we have learnt that Mars still has bodies of liquid water locked beneath the surface; it has a network of old lava tubes that could offer protection from the relentless solar radiation; and that methane (generally considered a by-product of life) is being continuous produced from….somewhere. Couple these facts with discoveries on Earth of organisms known as extremophiles, that can withstand a staggeringly wide range of environmental factors previously thought to be lethal, and the chance of finding life on Mars, or at least past-evidence of it, does not sound too far-fetched.

Perseverance is scheduled to touch down on 18th February, 2021 in the Jezero Crater, with the sole purpose of answering the greatest question ever posed: Are we alone?

The Jezero Crater may have once formed an ocean, fed by a series of tributaries resembling a delta on Earth, providing what many experts believe is the most likely place to find evidence of ancient life. Remember the 3 aforementioned requirements for life? The Jezero Crater landscape ticks all the boxes: permanent water being kept warm by the heat of the Sun, that is being fed a chemical feast of elements in the form of sedimentary run-off.

The Jezero Crater and associated delta formations.

Image Credit: NASA

Armed with a host of cutting-edge technology, the Perseverance Rover will explore the prehistoric crater, drilling rock and soil samples for analysis and searching for chemical bio-signatures; even storing them for a later mission to return them to Earth. It will also trial a radical plan to extract oxygen from the carbon dioxide rich atmosphere of Mars. Success could mean the potential to provide future human visitors with Martian-made, breathable oxygen.

Perhaps its most audacious payload is ‘Ingenuity’, a drone-come-helicopter that has been specifically engineered to fly in the thin atmosphere of Mars. Ingenuity will the scout the way for Perseverance and give a high resolution, birds-eye-view of the planet like never before. This first-of-its-kind brainchild of NASA scientists has the potential to spearhead a new era of planetary exploration.

Artist Impression of The Ingenuity Helicopter

Image Credit: NASA

This venture has not been cheap however. All in, the estimated cost of placing Perseverance on the surface of Mars (assuming it survives the landing!) is around $2.7 billion dollars. Many might argue that these resources could be better spent elsewhere, especially considering the current state of the world. However, where would the human race be without its Spirit of adventure and its Curiosity to explore the unknown?

As we lose our grasp on the biosphere, it is imperative that we look forward, and hopefully learn from our mistakes. To find evidence of life, even past life, on another planet would allow for a unique comparison to our own struggling environment and hopefully help us understand how best to resurrect our ailing home.

Perhaps even more importantly, It would provide a fresh and exciting new perspective that has the potential to quite literally change the way we view everything.

The Curiosity Rover on the Martian Surface

Image Credit: NASA

The human race lacks a collective identity, having been splintered into multiple isolated factions after years of inter-specific conflict. Just Imagine the unity that could be attained by the discovery that we are not alone….

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