Life on Mars - How Will it Affect Religions?According to Space.com, NASA researchers claim there is evidence of present life on Mars. Of course, people have been talking about possible signs of life on Mars for decades, so we should probably wait for further confirmation of these findings:
A pair of NASA scientists told a group of space officials at a private meeting here Sunday that they have found strong evidence that life may exist today on Mars, hidden away in caves and sustained by pockets of water. The scientists, Carol Stoker and Larry Lemke of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, told the group that they have submitted their findings to the journal Nature for publication in May, and their paper currently is being peer reviewed. What Stoker and Lemke have found, according to several attendees of the private meeting, is not direct proof of life on Mars, but methane signatures and other signs of possible biological activity remarkably similar to those recently discovered in caves here on Earth.
Stoker and other researchers have long theorized that the Martian subsurface could harbor biological organisms that have developed unusual strategies for existing in extreme environments. That suspicion led Stoker and a team of U.S. and Spanish researchers in 2003 to southwestern Spain to search for subsurface life near the Rio Tinto river—so-called because of its reddish tint—the product of iron being dissolved in its highly acidic water.
Stoker told SPACE.com in 2003, weeks before leading the expedition to southwestern Spain, that by studying the very acidic Rio Tinto, she and other scientists hoped to characterize the potential for a “chemical bioreactor” in the subsurface – an underground microbial ecosystem of sorts that might well control the chemistry of the surface environment. Making such a discovery at Rio Tinto, Stoker said in 2003, would mean uncovering a new, previously uncharacterized metabolic strategy for living in the subsurface. “For that reason, the search for life in the Rio Tinto is a good analog for searching for life on Mars,” she said.
Stoker told her private audience Sunday evening that by comparing discoveries made at Rio Tinto with data collected by ground-based telescopes and orbiting spacecraft, including the European Space Agency’s Mars Express, she and Lemke have made a very a strong case that life exists below Mars’ surface.
Svalbard, a Norwegian controlled Arctic group of islands, is a testing ground for expeditions to Mars:
The US space agency NASA is keen on using Svalbard as a regular testing grounds for future expeditions to Mars. One expert says research conditions on the Norwegian Arctic archipelago are "first-class." A group of American and Norwegian researchers is travelling to Svalbard this summer to conduct field work and already do some testing of various instruments and robotic technology.
Hans EF Amundsen, a researcher at the University of Oslo who will lead the group, said many places on Svalbard resemble those on Mars. "There are volcanoes, glaciers, warm springs that shoot up from the permafrost and landslides dotting the landscape," Amundsen told newspaper Aftenposten. Amundsen, a geologist, already has conducted extensive research on Svalbard and did his doctorate on the volcanoes of the archipelago. He has pinpointed several specific locations where the NASA team can work.
Knut I Oexnevad, who's spent five years working at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, calls Svalbard a "first-class laboratory for our purposes." He says the archipelago can function well as a "stand-in for Mars here on earth." NASA already has done some specific testing on the Svalbard, running robotics equipment on the Longyear Glacier. It will now be further tested with the aim of searching for life under the ice on Mars.
'Pack ice' suggests frozen sea on Mars
A frozen sea, surviving as blocks of pack ice, may lie just beneath the surface of Mars, suggest observations from Europe's Mars Express spacecraft. The sea is just 5° north of the Martian equator and would be the first discovery of a large body of water beyond the planet's polar ice caps. Images from the High Resolution Stereo Camera on Mars Express show raft-like ground structures - dubbed "plates" - that look similar to ice formations near Earth's poles, according to an international team of scientists.
There is abundant evidence for the past presence of water on Mars but today it appears relatively dry, with water ice confined to the planet's polar caps. Remote observations of hydrogen atoms by NASA's Odyssey spacecraft in 2002 hinted that ice might be locked in the top metre of soil at lower latitudes. But the evidence was inconclusive as the signal could have come from minerals exposed to water in the past.
The team of researchers, led by John Murray at the Open University, UK, estimates the submerged ice sea is about 800 by 900 kilometres in size and averages 45 metres deep. The team arrived at the depth estimate by studying craters in the plates. They say the craters appear too shallow for their diameters - suggesting ice is filling them up. Moreover, the surface appears unusually level - as if ice were beneath it. This evidence suggests the plates are not just imprints left by ice that has now completely vanished. Crater counts indicate the age of the plates is about 5 million years.
In their paper, the researchers trace a possible history for the underground ice. It begins with huge masses of ice floating in water on Mars. The ice was later covered with volcanic ash, preventing it from sublimating away into the thin atmosphere. Then, the ice broke up and drifted before the remaining liquid water froze. All of the ice not protected by ash sublimated away, leaving the pack ice plates behind. One problem with this proposed frozen sea is that there is very little water vapour in the Martian atmosphere today. Carr says that if there had been relatively recent sublimation, as the scientists propose, some traces of water should remain in the atmosphere.
What effects will it have on the world's religions if life, however primitive, should indeed be found on Mars? Will their stories about creation be shattered, or just reinterpreted?