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Wednesday, April 9, 2003

Mars Possibly Contaminated by Spacecraft

An Endospore.
An Endospore.
Credit: The American Phytopathological Society
New research done at the University of Idaho suggests that we may never know for sure whether life we find on Mars is Martian at all. His group simulated Martian conditions and placed bacteria in a natural, protective spore state in the most damaging soil found on Mars, known as ferrates. They survived.

This has enormous implications for all Martian biological research. We already have firm evidence that bacteria can survive in the vacuum of space, and even if the bacteria could not survive the harsh radiation inherent on Mars - which many strains could - it would only take a very thin layer of soil to protect them sufficiently. This means that any bacteria we find on Mars could very easily have come straight from Earth, catching a ride on the spacecraft that we sent to explore.

Further confusing the issue is the concept of panspermia. We have Martian meteorites in Antarctica and various other locales on Earth. As was suggested in 1996, life could have traveled across from Mars to Earth. If this is true, we may never be able to tell which planet life started on.

All this of course assumes that we will actually find life on Mars. The chances of it are getting greater as we look deeper at Mars and find more of the necessary prerequisites for life. It would be surprising if there were not life on Mars, rather than the other way around.

(More info: Astrobiology Magazine)

- posted by Brian @ 17:11 EST