If Dr Suzanne Young wanted to find life on Mars, she knows where she would look.
She would head to a giant glacier that sits on the Martian north pole and start drilling through the ice.
At the junction where ice meets the martian soil, she believes there is a film of liquid water that has a good chance of harbouring life. That life, if it is there, is likely to be in the form of microbes, that could have a lineage so ancient it would be older than anything on Earth.
Young was in Johannesburg this week, delivering a lecture at Wits University about the Phoenix mission and suitability of Mars for sustaining life.
“We were a scouting mission looking for water,” explains Young.
It didn’t take them long to find it. The probe had landed close to Mars’s north pole, on what scientists now believe was once an ocean. Now the water, they believe, is subterranean. Just 18cm below the surface, the Scout’s robotic digger found ice. Young and her colleagues even witnessed snow falling, and dew.
“We found the same salts that we find in our oceans – water had to have been there for a very long time.” said Young. Ph levels were also found to be more alkaline than previously thought. Decades ago it was believed Mars was more like an acid bath, where it was unlikely that life would survive. But with the presence of liquid water, the chances of finding extraterrestial life on Mars are looking good.
PRETORIA NEWS Wednesday March 21 2012
Water is life. Please conserve water. Don’t wait, it might be too late.