Looking for Hints for Life on Mars

by Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell on July 14, 2012
Featured in News to Know

Looking for hints-there-might-ever-have-been-life in all the right places . . . on Mars.

Curiosity, the latest Mars rover, is set to land on the Red Planet on August 5. Though no Mars lander has ever found any evidence of life, past or present, NASA researchers are hopeful. Long in planning, NASA scientists continue refining their analyses suggesting the best places to search. And according to a study by Alexander Pavlov and colleagues at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, those places will mostly be just a bit beneath the surface.1

“Right now the challenge is that past Martian landers haven’t seen any organic material whatsoever,” said the study’s lead author Alexander Pavlov. “We know that organic molecules have to be there, but we can’t find any of them in the soil.”2 Pavlov’s team contends that, despite billions of years of bombardment by cosmic radiation, small organic molecules could still exist just 5–10 centimeters (2–4 inches) beneath the surface.

Of course, the presence of small organic molecules would not prove life ever existed on Mars. Organic molecules, thought to be the products of spontaneous chemical reactions, have been found in meteorites. (See “Father Space—Did Amino Acids Seed Earth?” for a discussion of some of these.) The researchers believe that larger organic molecules—those with ten or more carbon atoms—would be more suggestive of a biological origin but would also be more likely to have broken down over time.

Previously, efforts to locate organics have analyzed possibilities below the maximum depth cosmic radiation can reach, about 1.5 meters (5 feet). But such deep drilling is not particularly practical. Pavlov’s team examined the possibilities for the shallower depths by modeling the soil and rock composition of Mars, the best guesses of the planet’s atmospheric density through time, and likely energy levels of cosmic radiation.

You want to go to fresh craters,because there’s probably a better chance to detect complex organic molecules. Let nature work for you.

By such modeling based on the Red Planet’s history, the researchers suggest the rover explore “young” craters—those they believe to be less than 10 million years old. “You want to go to fresh craters,” Pavlov explained, “because there’s probably a better chance to detect complex organic molecules. Let nature work for you.” The idea of course is that the surface inside a fresher crater has had less time exposed to cosmic radiation than an undisturbed nearby older surface.

The methods of estimating the dates of events on Mars are as subject to unverifiable assumptions as methods from estimating the age of the earth—and even more so, actually, since there has been no radiometric dating of material ever performed on actual Martian samples. Regardless of age, it does make sense that any organic molecules beneath the surface would have experienced less total exposure to radiation than undisturbed landscapes. Yet the presence of organic molecules does not prove life exists or ever existed on Mars.

While the Bible does not say that God didn’t create life on other planets, the Bible does tell us God created all life on earth during the first six days of Creation week about 6,000 years ago. A person does not have to be an evolutionist to wonder if there is any evidence of life on Mars. However, evolutionists generally think that life could have evolved anywhere conditions are right. They therefore believe that finding life’s footprint on Mars would confirm life evolved there just as they believe it did on earth. However, no mechanism has ever been observed on earth or anywhere else whereby life could randomly emerge from non-living elements. And if life were ever to be found on Mars, knowing it was there would not prove how it got there. Assuming it was not a contaminant from earth, its existence would just be a testimony to the fact that God can create life anyplace He chooses.

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  1. A. Pavlov et al. “Degradation of the organic molecules in the shallow subsurface of Mars due to irradiation by cosmic rays.” Geophysical Research Letters (7 July 2012) doi:10.1029/2012GL052166 as described in http://www.agu.org/news/press/pr_archives/2012/2012-32.shtml.
  2. Space.com Staff, “Evidence for Ancient Life on Mars Could Be Just Below Surface, New Study Finds,” The Christian Science Monitor, July 6, 2012, http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2012/0706/Evidence-for-ancient-life-on-Mars-could-be-just-below-surface-new-study-finds-video.


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