by Gianni Marasco
Mars rover Curiosity, a van-sized mineral analyst, figure-eights across the rocky landscape then extends its giant robotic arm to collect samples.
When the vehicle touched down after falling at speeds of 470 miles per second, Mission Control in Pasadena exploded with cheers and hugs. Since then it has been beaming pictures back . Exploring Mars is a daunting process, but NASA believes finding sustainability a good reason to proceed.
The search for life on Mars raises questions about humankind. Where did we come from? How did we get here? A theory for the origin of life involves a Martian collision with an asteroid. An ancient impact may have sent some minerals our way.
The first US rover dispatched to Mars was Spirit in 2004. It was a considerably smaller machine but managed to transmit new information about the planet’s climate and composition. The same year, the US sent a larger rover, Opportunity.
The government organization SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, uses what is called the Drake Equation as a probability measurement for alien life. The equation involves the average formation rate of stars in a galaxy, the fragment of those stars that have planets, the percentage of those planets that are capable of supporting life and several other variables. Based upon observations by the Hubble telescope, astronomers have estimated that 10 to 20 percent of planets in galaxies similar to the Milky Way are Earth-like and can potentially develop life.
Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, may provide important clues. It has a thick and highly pressurized atmosphere, including clouds which interested NASA.Voyager 1 was the first to point out the possible existence of lakes and liquids on Titan, and the Cassini Mission verified NASA’s theories in 2004 that Titan also carries vast pools of water very similar to Earth’s.
Primordial Earth may have been something like Titan with its rich, organic atmosphere.Titan is but one nearby example of the appropriate conditions for life. The search is ongoing, and technology leaps every day, so our goal of answering such profound questions as alien life, or the origin of life, should be somewhere in the future. For more information, visit http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mars/main/index.html and http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cassini/multimedia/pia06407.html
Photographs courtesy of NASA. Top to bottom:
The Mars rover takes a self portrait.
Mt. Sharp in Gale Crater, where Curiosity landed. This is a montage of photos taken by the rover and edited to show the landscape as if it was shown Earth’s sunlight.
Titan as it orbits Saturn.