Published on April 26th, 2011 | by Yellow Magpie5
The Red Planet And Water: Is There Life On Planet Mars?
The planet Mars has long stoked beliefs in alien life-forms. One of the things that is most important for life is water. So does Mars have water?
For life to exist several fundamental things are required. An energy source, the building blocks of life and a medium for the life to exist in. For our energy source we have stars, in our case, the Sun. We use carbon for our building blocks. Finally, water is the medium that provides life.
A Planet That Was Abundant With Water
All over the surface of planet Mars there is evidence that the planet was once teeming with liquid water. The hallmarks of running water are visible in flood plains and river beds that have long since run dry.
Mars’s huge canyons also show evidence of water erosion. Check out Yellow Magpie’s The Planet Mars And The Valles Marineris: A Wonderland Of Canyons for further insight into these Martian Canyons.
Where Did All The Water Go?
So if Mars was abundant with water and had large, powerful, flowing rivers, where did all the water go?
The answer to this question can be found simply by looking at planet Mars’s relatively small size. At only one-tenth the mass of the Earth, Mars’s core solidified billions of years ago. The solidification of a planet’s core is the death knell of any world. Without a dynamic, molten core, planet Mars lost its magnetosphere which protects it from the solar winds. This occurred over four billion years ago.
Slowly, over time, it gradually lost much of its atmosphere. Thus Mars has one of the least dense atmospheres of all the planet’s, bar Mercury.
This low-pressure environment had dramatic consequences for liquid water. It simply cannot exist at these pressures as it quickly becomes vapour. Only at the lowest altitudes does it temporarily exist.
Does Any Water Remain On Planet Mars?
Despite the loss of most of its atmosphere water still exists on the surface of Mars in large quantities. However, it now just exists as solid ice at the poles. Although there are some scattered pockets of ice that reside in craters.
Could There Be Life On Planet Mars?
We now know that there is no intelligent life on Mars that could rival our own civilisation. So far we have failed to find any forms of life on the surface despite the planet being extensively probed and mapped. Even at this very minute, the Mars Rover, ‘Opportunity’ is busy gathering data as it scurries across the planet.
We still have not found any evidence of life on Mars but perhaps we have been searching in the wrong place. Planet Mars has a large number of caves and it is believed that this subterranean world might harbour life. This was given added emphasis when plumes of methane were observed emanating from below the surface.
There are only two possible explanations for this. Either the source of this methane is chemical or it is biological. As of yet, we just don’t know. On Earth we have found life in similar places, deep underground, a single-celled organism called Archaea. It is thought that this previously unheard of life-form contributes to as much as 20 per cent of the Earth’s biomass.
Could this be found on planet Mars too? Well, we will just have to wait and see.
Highly Recommended Reading
Check out Yellow Magpie’s The Planet Mars: Our Infatuation With The Red Neighbour, Mars’s Moons: The Oddness Of Phobos And Deimos, Mars’s Volcanoes: A Stunningly Mysterious World With Colossal Vents, Terraforming Mars: How To Create Another Home Planet and The Planet Mars And The Valles Marineris: A Wonderland Of Canyons for more in-depth insight into the Red Planet.
You may also wish to take a gander at The Solar System And Beyond: A Guide To The Cosmos.
Cosmos is a highly recommended book. It contains large, full-page pictures of Mars and writing on the subject by the highly competent author, Giles Sparrow.
For people living in Ireland or the United Kingdom, you can access: Cosmos from here.
For those who live in Canada, you can obtain: Cosmos here.
For Germany: Cosmos.
For France: Cosmos.