Author: Eric Malikyte
Mars is a cold, desolate world. Featuring butterscotch skies, cobalt sunrises, an atmosphere 100 times thinner than Earth’s, and rusty, alien vistas.
Mars is a dead world.
Its core has long since frozen, and the magnetic field that once protected the red planet from the solar wind with it (all that remains of it are scattered pockets of magnetic activity). The surface is constantly bombarded by cosmic rays, continually stripping away what little atmosphere the red planet has left. And the gravity there is 62% less than that of Earth, which would cause huge problems for humans hoping to settle the red planet.
Mars seems to be anything but hospitable to life.
Yet, despite that, Mars continues to captivate us, inspiring us with its eerie crimson sand dunes, and unique geological features. The world is as alien as it gets in many ways, and yet it’s so familiar to us.
We’ve been observing the red planet for as long as we’ve had telescopes, and we’ve been enamored with its behavior in the heavens since ancient Egypt. Long before the advent of high-powered telescopes and probes that could directly image and map the surface of the planet existed, humanity dreamed of flowing rivers and canals of water, and Martians that we might one day meet.
Sadly, when we finally did get a clear view of Mars, it looked highly unlikely that life could have ever survived there.
But many scientists theorize that Mars wasn’t always dead.
In fact, there’s quite a bit of evidence to suggest that Mars was hit by a world-ending asteroid or comet in the distant past which may have caused quite a bit of material from the surface of the planet to be ejected into space.
We’ve discovered Martian meteorites right here on Earth, even! And what’s really cool, is that there’s growing proof that these meteorites have fossilized microbes (and possibly even bacteria) in them. Granted, there’s still quite a bit of debate on the subject; but since the discovery of liquid, running water on Mars recently, the evidence is kind of hard to ignore.
The article in question, however, suggests that life may have originated on Mars long before the Earth was even finished forming.
“Planetesimals, the rocky building blocks of planets, likely had all the ingredients necessary for life as we know it way back at the dawn of the solar system,” said Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the director of Arizona State University’s (ASU) Earth and Space Exploration and principal investigator of NASA’s upcoming mission to the odd metallic asteroid Psyche. “And clement conditions may have persisted inside some planetesimals for tens of millions of years – perhaps long enough for life to emerge. Some planetesimals survived into and beyond the planet-forming period, raising the possibility that one of these primitive bodies may have seeded Earth with life.”
“Some things are going to fall – like Chelyabinks, for example (the meteor that exploded over the Russian city of the same name) – back onto the surface of a temperate planet,” she added. “So, there is that possibility in the end.”
This idea grew out of a course that Elkins-Tanton taught at ASU in the fall of 2016, having asked students to consider whether life could have evolved on smaller bodies. Over the course of several months, Ekins-Tanton, her co-author on the newly presented work, Stephen West, as well as her students, explored this idea, as well as a host of questions raised.
Elkins-Tanton went on to explain that these planetesimals formed within 1.5 million years of our star system’s birth, likely featuring all of the key three ingredients for allowing life to form: liquid water, organic molecules, and an energy source.
35 different amino acids have been identified in the Murchison meteorite, an ancient space rock that fell to earth in Australia in 1969.
The Murchison meteorite is so full of organics that it “smells like an oil well,” Elkins-Tanton said. “What could be a better place for the advent of life than a nice, warm, wet piece of Murchison? So, that’s the idea we’re starting with.”
Elkins-Tanton goes on to explain that most early signs of life date back to 3.8 billion years ago. But some scientists have presented evidence that microbes already had a foothold here by 4.1 billion years ago.
(Be sure to check out the full article, first link in the sources section).
Given the evidence of a massive impact on Mars in the distant past, is it possible that this impact event was also an extinction event? One that likely could have shot Martian debris in our forming planet’s direction.
How poetic would it be if it turned out that the death of Mars turned out to be the catalyst that jumpstarted the evolution of life on Earth?