Carbon on Mars – how did it get there?

NASA has ended some feverish speculation with the announcement of a tantalizing discovery by the land rover, Curiosity, which is slowly creeping around Mars:

Curiosity has found carbon on Mars.

The third (left) and fourth (right) trenches made by the 1.6-inch-wide (4-centimeter-wide) scoop on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity.

 

This is potentially exciting because carbon is one of the essential building blocks of life as we know it. So there may have been life on Mars at some point.

But then, there may not have been.  The carbon may be a contamination from Earth.  Or it may have been brought there by an asteroid.  At this point there isn’t enough evidence to know which of these three possibilities these few atoms of carbon represent.

Actually, one would not expect remnants of life to be left on the wind-swept dusty surface of the planet.  If there was life on Mars which has left some mark, the chances are that it will be buried.

Curiosity is still scratching the surface of Mars.  But it is equipped with a digger, and it will be going underground during its two-year mission on the planet.

So there’s a lot more news from the Red Planet to look forward to.

It is even conceivably possible that some extreme form of life is still surviving in one of Mars’ deep caverns, just as they are surviving on Earth.

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About Terry Sissons

Terry Sissons is the author of The Big Bang to Now: All of Time in Six Chunks, and this blog is a dialogue about the universe and what’s happened in the last 13 billions years.
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