A NASA survey of the Hellas Panitia on Mars recently found that the massive impact crater spanning 2,000 kilometers across may have once contained a massive sea of liquid water. The finding was the most dramatic yet to suggest that even if it does not now, there is a quickly growing body of evidence to suggest life once existed on the red planet.
The ocean, technically a large lake would have been the perfect place for life to evolve somewhere between 3.5 and 4.5 billion years ago according to researchers at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson. The study is thus far consistent with all previous studies of Mars at this level of detail and are part of a growing trend in Martian studies to suggest that the Noachian period of Mars’ history may have actually supported life on its surface. The data suggests that the thin film layered one on top of the other at the outer rim of the Hellas is similar to a sedimentary deposit we would see in terrestrial sandstone. In other words, it would have been formed from the receding of water carrying deposits into the area over a vast period of time. This also suggests that the water would have not only been on Mars, but been present for an extensive period of time. The theory posited by several researchers at the Planetary Science Institute is that conditions on Mars would have actually been more favorable for life to develop than they would have been on Earth when life was thought to first form. If this is the case, then it may be possible for future expeditions to actually sift through the layers of sediment and search for the fossilized remains of ancient microbes.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that since life has been demonstrated to exist in places on Earth that it was thought life could not survive previously thanks to the discovery of extremophiles (organisms that require extreme environments to sustain themselves) there is a chance that life could have somehow found its way from one of these places to another location on Mars where it would continue to survive and even thrive in the hostile canyons or even a geyser if one were discovered. Magma chutes, for example, could harbor life that could exist in the extreme environments feeding off of the heat and energy derived from lava below. If the data sent back by the Viking Orbiter and others like it are accurate, and there is no reason to believe they are not, we are looking for the first time at a real chance of finding life on another planet. And if this isn’t hopeful enough, just consider that a year ago we didn’t even know water was present on the Lunar surface.
We can only hope that exploration of Mars continues so we can further document if these life forms ever existed and where they may be even today just beneath the surface of our mysterious neighboring planet.