Is there alien life on Mars? If so, and if we can find it, it would be a defining moment in our history. We’ve already found evidence of water, which is, from what we know, a necessary ingredient for a planet to sustain life. We’ve even recently discovered that Mars’ Gale Crater may once have held entire lakes. But if this life exists, where is it?
In 1976, the Viking spacecraft found tentative suggestions of life on the Red Planet, but that research was later dismissed when scientists decided the spacecraft’s instruments weren’t sensitive enough to detect that sort of thing. However, Gil Levin, who led that mission, is now part of a team that hopes to prove Viking’s possible findings about life correct with a project called Exolance. The team wants to fire a series of probes (missiles, really) at Mars that will embed themselves deep within the planet’s surface and, hopefully, finally find real signs of life there in the form of ancient preserved microbes.
Other Mars missions have drilled into the planet’s soil, but those projects didn’t drill very deep. Even Curiosity’s instruments are limited to only an inch or two. These missions have also been limited to particular regions of the planet. The idea behind Exolance is to get a series of small lightweight probes to the planet (the team hopes to hitch a ride via another Mars mission) and then scatter the probes across the surface of Mars, where they will penetrate deep into the planet’s surface and use scientific instruments that would communicate with Earth on a regular basis to analyze soils deep underground, searching for life.
Obviously, durability would be something important in creating the probes. Fortunately, the Exolance team are also responsible for tests of similar probes for a possible Europa mission, proving that their idea is a feasible one. Not only that, but sending probes via an already-planned future mission is less expensive than creating a specific spacecraft just for the probes, meaning that this is something we could do in the very near future.
Via New Scientist