Because the universe is beautiful enough without having to lie about it

Water on early Mars

July 17th, 2008 Posted in Astronomy, Biology

A recent report says that water was widespread on Mars, early in its life.  Here’s the BBC article and the Nature abstract (not for the faint hearted).  This will, of course, raise the possibility that primitive microbial life might have evolved at some point in the history of the Red Planet, and that traces of it might remain somewhere in the Martian rocks.

I’m not sure how plausible this really is – after all, the remnants of microbial life surely wouldn’t have survived on a planet like Mars for well over 3 billion years, would they? But without plate tectonics and with only wind and sand erosion, I guess it’s a possibility that somewhere deep within the Martian rocks lies the relic of a primitive replicator.

How exciting would that discovery be?  Well, first of all it would tell us about the likelihood of life existing elsewhere in the Universe.  If life could evolve, albeit in a primitive way, on Mars, then surely that vastly raises the probability of life arising elsewhere, maybe even within our solar system.  Secondly, it would help us to examine whether or not life on Earth and Mars had a common origin and investigate the theory of life being seeded on one or both of those planets from space.  Thirdly, and most excitingly, if life on Mars had arisen totally independently of Earth, then that would give us a fascinating insight into the origins of life itself and would allow us to investigate a completely different mode of life. Martian life would not, presumably, be based around the DNA-RNA system used by all living creatures on Earth, but might have subtle differences that would help us to make fascinating deductions about the way life could have begun on Earth.

Of course, I’m not holding out any great hopes just yet.

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