For decades now, scientists have been trying to find evidence of life outside the blue planet. Recently, scientists from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (HAS) Research Centre for Astronomy and Earth Sciences have found evidence of several forms of bacteria in a Martian meteorite. This signals that life may have once existed on the red planet.
Japanese National Institute of Polar Research discovered the meteorite ALH-77005 during its Antarctica mission in the Allan Hills between 1977 and 1978. After over 40 years of its discovery, scientists have finally got a breakthrough. This will propel scientific research further to analyze whether life beyond the Earth exists.
Life on Mars
The red planet has been of much fascination to the scientific community owing to its proximity and resemblance to earth. Several missions have been sent to study the planet in the past. Let’s dive in to learn about a few of them and understand where we have reached in our journey to search for life in our neighbor:
- Mariner 4: After several unsuccessful missions by the Soviet Union and American space agencies to Mars, the first successful mission to Mars was of Mariner 4 by NASA on 28 November 1964. It was a flyby mission. The pictures taken during the mission indicated no signs of life, with the red planet covered in craters. The mission also revealed that the planet had no global magnetic field to act as a protection against harmful cosmic rays. The mission provided a direction for the upcoming Mars missions that were aimed to find bacterial-like life on the planet instead of multi-cellular life, considering the harsh environmental conditions on the planet for such organisms to exist.
- Viking Missions: Launched in the mid-1970s, the major finding of these missions was the evidence of water on the Martian surface. Ruins of possible river valleys and streams were detected. However, the findings of the mission are still debated within the scientific community.
- Phoenix Lander: Phoenix Lander touched down the Martian soil in May 2008. It was launched with the twin objectives of finding a “habitable zone” on the planet and studying the geological history of water there. The findings suggested that the Martian soil consisted of perchlorate (ClO4) and thus may not be as suitable to sustain life as expected.
- Mars Science Laboratory: Carried out in 2011 by the American space agency NASA, the mission sent the Curiosity rover to Mars to study whether life can be sustained on the planet, to check the feasibility of a manned mission, and to study Mars’ geology and history. The mission attracted a lot of media attention. The rover also played the song “Happy birthday to you” on completion of one year on Mars, making it the first time in history that a song was ever played on another planet. It studied the Martian radiation environment and found a habitable environment on the planet.
Literature on Mars
Authors have been fascinated by the idea of life beyond Earth and the red planet holds special significance in the literary world, both in the fiction and the non-fiction domain. Some of the must-read books that closely capture the beauty of the planet are as follows:
- ‘The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must’ by Robert Zubrin
One of the best books on Mars in the non-fiction genre, ‘The Case for Mars’ advocates setting up a human civilization on the planet and suggests how to do it. Zubrin recommends practical ideas to use existing technology to sustain life on Mars. Further, he advises on implementing an ongoing exploration program to build a permanent human civilization on the planet.
- ‘Before Mars’ by Emma Newman
This is a good read for those who appreciate fiction. The protagonist Anna is a geologist-cum-artist who goes on a long solo expedition to Mars. In her solitary journey, her only point of human touch is a neural chip that can help her immerse in her memories of the past. Resorting to this might be risky, for it may become difficult for her to distinguish between memories and reality. What happens next will keep you engrossed. The style of writing engages you that you keep flipping the pages.
- ‘The Fated Sky’ by Mary Robinette Kowal
‘The Fated Sky’ gives a different take on the quest to settle a human civilization in other planets. It believes that this would be a necessity rather than a dream, owing to the Earth becoming uninhabitable soon. The book has Elma York, a World War II pilot and mathematician as the protagonist, who is the only woman astronaut in the crew headed to the red planet. The trials and tribulations on the journey are interestingly presented. Kowal smoothly intertwines the historical events with the plot of the story.
- ‘CatStronauts: Race to Mars’ by Drew Brockington
CatStronauts gives a light-hearted take on conquering Mars. This graphic novel is a story of feline astronauts called the CatStronauts who set on a race to the red planet against their rivals Cosmocats. A fun novel for the children as well as adults!
Mars in Movies
Cinema is not behind when it comes to setting stories around this planet. The list is endless. Some of these are:
- The Martian
One of the most well-known movies on the red planet in recent times, The Martian has Academy Award-winner Matt Damon playing Mark Watney, a botanist and astronaut as the lead. Watney gets stranded on the planet after a failed mission. The story revolves around his struggle to survive on the red planet in the hope of help.
- Total Recall
The 1990 sci-fi flick has Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rachel Ticotin in the lead. The film explores how a construction worker goes through experiences which he fails to understand are real or part of his memory. The performance of the actors is what keeps the movie strong. The film received three Academy nominations and won one for its visual effects.
There are many more in the fray but these two surely deserve to be watched.
The red planet has piqued the interest of mankind since ages. Whether or not life ever existed on it, the quest of the human race to solve this mystery speaks of its indomitable spirit.
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