New study helps answer mystery of what happened to Mars’ early atmosphere

Mars used to have a thicker atmosphere and water on its surface, but what happened to that atmosphere has been a mystery. New research may finally help answer that question. Image Credit: M. Kornmesser/ESO
Mars used to have a thicker atmosphere and water on its surface, but what happened to that atmosphere has been a mystery. New research may finally help answer that question. Image Credit: M. Kornmesser/ESO

The question of how Mars changed from a once wet world to the much colder and drier one we see today is one that scientists have been trying to answer for a long time. There is plenty of evidence that Mars use to have lakes and rivers, and perhaps even oceans. But what happened to change that? Now, a new study might bring us one step closer to solving this conundrum.

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Testing panspermia: searching for ‘bubbles of life’ in the galaxy

Does life spread through the galaxy like an infectious disease, with “bubbles” of inhabited planets? Image Credit: Harvard-Smithsonian CfA
Does life spread through the galaxy like an infectious disease, with “bubbles” of inhabited planets? Image Credit: Harvard-Smithsonian CfA

We still don’t know if there is life elsewhere in the universe, but scientists are working on techniques to better understand how it may have originated anyway, in the event that such alien biology is indeed discovered, even if just simple microbes. Focusing on exoplanets, the research suggests that if multiple inhabited worlds were found, then researchers could look for patterns similar to those found in epidemics on Earth, which might provide evidence for panspermia, the theory that life could spread through our galaxy from one habitable planet to another.

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Potential landing sites for Mars 2020 Rover narrowed down to eight locations

Map of the eight proposed landing sites for the Mars 2020 Rover. Image Credit: NASA/MOLA Science Team
Map of the eight proposed landing sites for the Mars 2020 Rover. Image Credit: NASA/MOLA Science Team

NASA’s next Mars rover is due to launch in July or August 2020, and the number of potential landing sites has now been narrowed down by scientists to eight locations. Out of an initial list of 21 targets, eight sites have been chosen as candidate landing sites for the Mars 2020 Rover. Due to land on Mars in February 2021, the rover will search for rocks which could hold possible evidence of past life on the planet.

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Muddy Mars: new evidence for liquid water flows within past million years

Illustration of debris flows inside Istok crater on Mars, which have provided evidence of large amounts of flowing water and mud in the past. The flows are very similar to ones on Earth in Arctic regions such as Iceland. Image Credit: Nature Communications
Illustration of debris flows inside Istok crater on Mars, which have provided evidence of large amounts of flowing water and mud in the past. The flows are very similar to ones on Earth in Arctic regions such as Iceland. Image Credit: Nature Communications

The fact that Mars used to have large amounts of liquid water on its surface is pretty much accepted among scientists, but there is still the question of how long that water lasted. How long ago was it still present? A billion years? A few million? New evidence based on data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) suggests that water was still on the surface within the past million years, perhaps even as recently as 500,000 years ago, which is indeed recent, geologically speaking.

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Methane discovered in Martian meteorites: a clue to possible life?

Methane has been discovered in some meteorites originating from Mars. Could it be a clue to life? Image Credit: Michael Helfenbein
Methane has been discovered in some meteorites originating from Mars. Could it be a clue to life? Image Credit: Michael Helfenbein

The puzzle of methane on Mars has taken an interesting new twist: for the first time, the gas has been detected within Martian meteorites. The finding adds another layer to the ongoing controversy over the origin of the methane, whether it is abiotic and geological or a potential biosignature of life, either past or present.

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Alien ocean: all systems go for new NASA mission to Europa

Artist’s conception of the Europa Clipper during a flyby of Europa. Image Credit: NASA
Artist’s conception of the Europa Clipper during a flyby of Europa. Image Credit: NASA

After many years of people hoping and waiting, NASA has announced that a new mission to Europa has successfully completed its first major review by the agency and now is entering the development phase, known as formulation. In other words, we are finally going back to Europa!

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Early Mars may have been cold and icy rather than warm, according to new study

Conceptual image of the two competing warm and cold models of early Mars. Image Credit: Robin D. Wordsworth
Conceptual image of the two competing warm and cold models of early Mars. Image Credit: Robin D. Wordsworth

The debate over whether Mars used to be warmer and wetter or colder and wetter earlier in its history has been a long and contentious one. Now, a new study suggests it may be the latter, that Mars was indeed wetter, as overwhelming evidence has already shown, but that it was still a rather cold and icy climate overall.

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Impact glass discovered on Mars: how it might help in search for evidence of past life

Image from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, showing deposits of impact glass (green) in Alga Crater. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/JHUAPL/Univ. of Arizona
Image from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, showing deposits of impact glass (green) in Alga Crater. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/JHUAPL/Univ. of Arizona

For the first time, impact glass has been detected on the surface of Mars; the discovery not only provides new information about the formation of impact craters, but might even offer clues to the possibility of ancient life on the Red Planet. The discovery was made by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft.

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To Europa! NASA announces science instruments for new mission to ocean moon

The cracked icy surface of Europa. Could the ocean below support life? The Europa Clipper mission will try to answer that question. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Ted Stryk
The cracked icy surface of Europa. Could the ocean below support life? The Europa Clipper mission will try to answer that question. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Ted Stryk

An exciting new development in planetary exploration was announced yesterday: NASA has chosen the science instruments which will be included in a new mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa. For those advocating and supporting such a mission, this is welcome news indeed. Europa’s subsurface ocean has become a prime target in the search for possible life elsewhere in the Solar System, and this mission may finally help to answer long-standing questions about this fascinating moon.

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‘Ocean Worlds Exploration Program’: new budget proposal calls for missions to Europa, Enceladus and Titan

Artist’s conception of Europa’s interior, with water rising through cracks in the surface, depositing salts similar to sea salt on Earth. The ocean below may be a habitable environment for some kind of life. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Artist’s conception of Europa’s interior, with water rising through cracks in the surface, depositing salts similar to sea salt on Earth. The ocean below may be a habitable environment for some kind of life. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The exploration of the outer Solar System has revealed a plethora of amazing worlds, the likes of which were little known or even unheard of just a decade ago. Among the most remarkable and tantalizing discoveries are the “ocean moons” such as Europa and Enceladus, which have oceans or seas of liquid water beneath their icy surfaces. Other moons like Titan, Ganymede, and Callisto may also have them, and even some asteroids. Titan also has seas and lakes of liquid methane/ethane on its surface. With all that water, these small worlds have become a primary focus in the search for possible life elsewhere in the Solar System. Now, a new NASA budget proposal wants to take that a step further and fund new missions to these watery moons.

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