Evidence for Extant Life on Mars?

UPDATE – NASA Responds to Mars Life Rumor – Friday, February 18, 2005 – NASA posted the following press release about media reports of evidence for extant life on Mars:

News reports on February 16, 2005, that NASA scientists from Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., have found strong evidence that life may exist on Mars are incorrect.

NASA does not have any observational data from any current Mars missions that supports this claim. The work by the scientists mentioned in the reports cannot be used to directly infer anything about life on Mars, but may help formulate the strategy for how to search for martian life. Their research concerns extreme environments on Earth as analogs of possible environments on Mars. No research paper has been submitted by them to any scientific journal asserting martian life.

File this under “Rumors”…Space.com is reporting that two scientists from NASA’s Ames Research Center have submitted a paper to the journal Nature detailing possible signatures of current biological activity on Mars. The scientists apparently reached this conclusion after discovering activity on Mars similar to the activity of novel subsurface life forms in extreme conditions near the Rio Tinto river in Spain.

One of the signatures is the presence of methane in the martian atmosphere, independently detected by the ESA orbiter Mars Express and ground-based observatories last year. Another rumor has Vittorio Formisano, one of the lead scientists for the Mars Express mission, announcing next week the detection of other gases in the martian atmosphere that strongly hint at biological activity. The official program for the 1st Mars Express Science Conference appears to confirm this rumor, with a talk entitled “Methane, formaldehyde and water by PFS” to be presented by Formisano on Thursday, February 24, 2005.

In September 2004 the ESA team announced an overlap of water vapor and methane in the atmosphere above Arabia Terra and two other regions on Mars. In the background image the highest concentrations of water vapor are in green.

Even if these rumors are confirmed, the evidence may not be conclusive. The above work is allegedly undergoing peer review prior to release. Other scientists will need to confirm the results and then new missions to Mars will need to be launched to explore areas of interest and search out the potential Martians. The process may take more than a decade, but could lead to one of the most profound discoveries in human history.

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Richard Leis

Richard Leis is a writer and poet. His first published poem, "Roadside Freak Show," arrives on August 21, 2017 in Impossible Archetype.  His essays about fairy tales and technology have been published on Tiny Donkey. Richard is also the Downlink Lead for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) team at the University of Arizona. He monitors images of the Martian surface taken by the HiRISE camera located on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in orbit around Mars and helps ensure they process successfully and are validated for quick release to the science community and public. Once upon a time, Richard wrote and edited the science and technology news and commentary website Frontier Channel, hosted the RADIO Frontier Channel podcast, and organized transhumanist clubs. Follow Richard on his website (richardleis.com), on Goodreads (richardleis), Twitter (@richardleisjr), and Facebook (richardleisjr).