The idea that Earth is the only habitable planet in our solar system is slowly dwindling as we continue to explore the galaxy with our advanced technology. As the human race begins to learn more about the universe, our newfound intelligence seems to contradict our old, established belief system. Could the conventional wisdom of what we thought we knew to be wrong? Perhaps there is potential for life on Mars.
In the 1970s, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) initiated the Viking program, which was comprised of two American space probes, Viking 1, and Viking 2. Their main objectives were to transport landers to Mars, act as communication relays for the landers, perform reconnaissance to locate and certify landing sites and to perform their own scientific investigations. On August 20, 1975, Viking 1 was launched with the sole assignment of photographing the Mars landscape, and finding a suitable landing site for the following Viking 2 mission, which was launched on September 9 of that same year. Investigators studying the photographs found a picture of the Mar’s Cydonia region that appeared to show a mile-wide hill shaped like a human face. Officials at NASA claimed it was just a trick of the light, and released the image to the public, naming it the ‘Mars Face’. Although, many followers who studied the photographs closely, believed that some formations were artificial, rather than naturally created. Some suggested that the face was the design of an intelligent life form and that the triangular hills close to the face were actually pyramids.
In the late 1990s, the Mars Global Surveyor took further photographs of the Cydonia region. These pictures depicted the ‘Mars Face’ and other geographical objects as being much more ingenious. However, ‘Mars Face’ enthusiasts claimed these new photographs illustrated a whole city frozen underneath a giant glacier in the region. NASA officials have pledged to continue mapping the area until the answers are revealed, and also vowed that the Cydonia region of Mars will be studied thoroughly to suit everyone’s intrigue.
Other developments in the search to find life on Mars have also come up with captivating findings. In 1984, a meteorite from Mars was discovered in Antarctica and the scientists who studied it found it contained evidence of bacterial life which may have existed on the red planet. The space rock contained hydrocarbons, which are natural waste products from dead organisms, and mineral structures consistent with bacterial activity. From NASA’s viewpoint, these features found together strongly point to a possibility of micro-organism activity.
In 1997, as part of NASA’s Mars Pathfinder mission, the Pathfinder spacecraft was sent with the roving probe, Soujourner, marking their first successful rover on Mars. Pathfinder touched down in the Ares Vallis region of the planet and took many photographs and readings. Some of the photographs it took revealed that several areas close to the landing site may have contained chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is a substance used by plants and other organisms to extract energy from sunlight. It is an essential component of life on planet Earth, which makes it a very clear indicator that life may be on Mars as well.
The most basic and important element for life is Di-hydrogen Monoxide, or put simply, water. It is generally assumed that there was little available water on the Mars surface and that most of it was frozen solid. Recent studies have suggested that the surface of Mars is actually a covering over a permafrost layer. Russian scientists have looked at examples of life found in permafrost regions on Earth, and believe similar organisms may lurk somewhere on Mars, most likely underground. Other experts who have studied the red planet have noted how similar it is to dried-up rivers, lakes, and ocean areas on Earth, suggesting that water was in abundance at some point in time on Mars.
Over the past decades, the science community has made substantial progress in the exploration of outer space. However, with each new mission and study, more potential questions seem to arise. Just as the human race put a man on the moon, it is without a doubt that our species will inevitably put a man on the red planet. As it may well take nothing less than a manned mission to finally ease the mystery of Mars.