Mariner 4 was the first spacecraft to flyby Mars.

Life on Mars: The fascinating history of Mars

The Mars planet is shown in its true color.
The Mars planet is shown in its true color.
Credits – ESA & MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA. License – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0.

Mars is the Red Planet which is the fourth planet from the Sun. Humans have looked at Mars in the sky for countless centuries wondering whether there are people living in it. Many thinkers and writers have imagined Mars inhabited by Martians who built a sophisticated civilization.

But the advent of Science and Technology has sought us to find scientific answers to the question. Tens of spacecraft and landers have been sent to Mars. Until now there has been no proof of the existence of any type of life on Mars.

Why people are so curious about Mars planet?

Mariner 4 Mars probe was launched on November 28, 1964, by the United States and successfully completed the first flyby of Mars and returned the first up-close images of its surface. The images from this probe which showed a barren, lifeless Mars shifted the public thinking about the sustainability of life on Mars.
Mariner 4 Mars probe was launched on November 28, 1964, by the United States and successfully completed the first flyby of Mars and returned the first up-close images of its surface. The images from this probe which showed a barren, lifeless Mars shifted the public thinking about the sustainability of life on Mars.
Credits – NASA. Source.

Mars was thought of as a planet capable of sustaining life due to some scientific reasons. Mars is similar to the Earth in many aspects. Their sizes are comparable. Mars is slightly colder than us when compared with the temperature range in the solar system.

Mars doesn’t have continental drift or plate tectonics. Hence the surface of Mars is relatively the same for billions of years. Hence Mars had the best chance of sustaining life. Even if life existed billions of years ago, Mars remaining the same is a good way of preserving any evidence that once it supported life.

You might enjoy seeing SpaceX: Photos to Make You Look into the Future.

What happened to the Red Planet?

Escaping gases from the atmosphere of Mars.
Escaping gases from the atmosphere of Mars.
Credits – NASA/Univ. of Colorado. Source.

Mars formerly had water bodies and a dense atmosphere, exactly like Earth has now. The planet lost its magnetic field as a result of the cooling and solidification of the planet’s core over time. The planet’s atmosphere was lost due to the solar wind when it lost its magnetic field.

This removed 85% of the water on Mars and brought the pressure to such an extent that liquid water could not exist on the surface. If there was any life on Mars at that point, it would have been extinct.

How are NASA and other space organizations searching for life on Mars?

An illustration of the powered descent stage of the Perseverance rover landing on Mars.
An illustration of the powered descent stage of the Perseverance rover landing on Mars.
Credits – NASA/JPL-Caltech. Source.

But the good news is we can search for the signs if previously life existed on Mars. The interesting results which have come from research are the discovery of boron and organic compounds in sedimentary rocks. Both of these are the precursors to the origin of life.

The discovery of seasonal variation of methane gas on Mars was also exciting as it can be produced by either microbes or geologically. Various Mars probes and rovers are trying hard to find pieces of evidence of life.

21st Century research focuses on finding biomarkers for life, such as the existence of water or other important biochemicals and gases needed to sustain life.

You may want to see James Webb Space Telescope: Why People Are So Excited?

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