Dear Dr. Universe: What can you tell me about Mars? Is there life there? – Coleman, 10, Spokane, Wash.

Dear Coleman,

People have wondered if Mars has life for a long time. About a hundred years ago, an astronomer named Percival Lowell looked through a telescope and thought he saw canals—a possible sign of water and life as we know it—on Mars.

That’s what I found out from my friend Michael Allen, a physicist and astronomer at Washington State University. He explained that there are no canals on Mars and a lot of people thought there was life on Mars because through a telescope, it can sometimes look green in some areas.

Allen told me that there isn’t anything on Mars to show there is definitely life there, but that scientists are looking for clues that there could be life there. Scientists have found frozen water on Mars and water is necessary for life as we know it. They have also found what they think are dry river beds. This means that Mars might have been a more livable place a long time ago.

Another clue was an asteroid called ALH84001 that scientists found in Antarctica. They think this asteroid probably came from Mars and might have contained microfossils. Microfossils are imprints of really small living things that died in the rock and can only be seen through a microscope. Scientists aren’t sure yet if what they saw are actually fossils of dead bacteria or just a pattern in the rock, but they are want to find out for sure.

Before we can prove there is life on Mars, scientists need more evidence or to find an actual living thing. Allen said he, “would bet on Mars having life.”

Allen explained what that life might look like if it turned up. Mars can get very cold and has a lot of salt, so life on Mars would need to find ways to stay warm and live with the salt. Allen also said if Mars has life, he thinks it could possibly live underground.

There are a lot of people who are interested in living on Mars, one day, but that is very far away. However, scientists are also doing research to get a better idea about living on Mars.

Across the country, scientists have Mars simulation chambers, which are like very similar to Mars on the inside. These chambers have similar air, similar temperatures, and even have simulated Mars dirt! Bacteria from Earth that were put in these chambers have been able to survive, which is another clue that life could exist on Mars.

Even if it is far away, scientists are working hard to learn if there is life on Mars. Do you think there is life on Mars? Let me know at Dr.Universe@wsu.edu.

Sincerely,

Kate Weed (and Dr. Universe)

 

Kate Weed contributed this article. She is a student in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University.