No Mars probe since Viking has tested the Martian regolith specifically for metabolism which is the ultimate sign of current life. NASA's recent missions have focused on another question: whether Mars held lakes or oceans of liquid water on its surface in the ancient past. Scientists have found hematite, a mineral that forms in the presence of water. Thus, the mission of the Mars Exploration Rovers of 2004 was not to look for present or past life, but for evidence of liquid water on the surface of Mars in the planet's ancient past.
Liquid water, necessary for Earth life and for metabolism as generally conducted by species on Earth, cannot exist on the surface of Mars under its present low atmospheric pressure and temperature, except at the lowest shaded elevations for short periods and liquid water does not appear at the surface itself.
In June 2000, evidence for water currently under the surface of Mars was discovered in the form of flood-like gullies. Deep subsurface water deposits near the planet's liquid core might form a present-day habitat for life. However, in March 2006, astronomers announced the discovery of similar gullies on the Moon, which is believed never to have had liquid water on its surface. The astronomers suggest that the gullies could be the result of micrometeorite impacts.
In March 2004, NASA announced that its rover Opportunity had discovered evidence that Mars was, in the ancient past, a wet planet. This had raised hopes that evidence of past life might be found on the planet today. ESA confirmed that the Mars Express orbiter had directly detected huge reserves of water ice at Mars' south pole in January 2004.
On July 28, 2005, ESA announced that they had recorded photographic evidence of surface water ice near Mars' North pole.
In December 2006, NASA showed images taken by the Mars Global Surveyor that suggested that water occasionally flows on the surface of Mars. The images did not actually show flowing water. Rather, they showed changes in craters and sediment deposits, providing the strongest evidence yet that water coursed through them as recently as several years ago, and is perhaps doing so even now. Some researchers were skeptical that liquid water was responsible for the surface feature changes seen by the spacecraft. They said other materials such as sand or dust can flow like a liquid and produce similar results.
Recent analysis of Martian sandstones, using data obtained from orbital spectrometry, suggests that the waters that previously existed on the surface of Mars would have had too high a salinity to support most Earth-like life. Tosca et al. found that the Martian water in the locations they studied all had water activity, aw ≤ 0.78 to 0.86—a level fatal to most Terrestrial life. Haloarchaea, however, are able to live in hypersaline solutions, up to the saturation point.
The Phoenix Mars lander from NASA, which landed in the Mars Arctic plain in May 2008, confirmed the presence of frozen water near the surface. This was confirmed when bright material, exposed by the digging arm of the lander, was found to have vaporized and disappeared in 3 to 4 days. This has been attributed to sub-surface ice, exposed by the digging and sublimated on exposure to the atmosphere.
Read more about this topic: Life On Mars
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