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Life Beneath Mars

Curiosity using its Chemistry and Camera instrument

This artist's concept depicts the rover Curiosity using its Chemistry and Camera instrument to investigate the composition of a rock surface on Mars. NASA/JPL-Caltech

By Mandy Thoo

The continual discovery of water on other planets raises the hope that now is our time to find life beyond Earth.

Mandy Thoo is a freelance science writer.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

As NASA’s rover Curiosity ambled across the arid Martian surface in September 2012 it made a momentous discovery – a deposit of smooth oval stones lying in a long depression in Gale Crater near the base of Mount Sharp on the Red Planet.

The smoothness and flatness of the pebbles indicate that had the rover arrived just three billion years earlier, it would have landed knee-deep in a running river – the one that shaped the stones. The discovery is persuasive evidence that water once flowed on the planet, fuelling speculation that the Martian environment could once have supported life – and may still. While water on the Red Planet’s surface is now largely imprisoned in ice caps, scientists are on a hunt to discover if liquid water – and life – exists in warm spots beneath the planet’s surface.

“Life – its origin and possible existence in the universe – is a jigsaw puzzle. It requires energy, liquid water and organic carbon,” says Professor Craig Simmons, the Director of The National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training at Flinders University. “In recent decades, groundwater has emerged as a vital piece of the puzzle. On Earth it is by far the biggest source of fresh water, accounting for about 97% of what’s available on the planet.

“Surface water and groundwater are basically a single source of water: they interconnect constantly. So if we want...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.