March 23, 2011

Did Humans Come From Mars?

Planetary scientists claim that all life on Earth could be descended from organisms that originated on Mars which were carried over by meteorites.

MIT research scientist Christopher Carr and post doctoral associate Clarissa Lui, along with other colleagues, based their study on several facts that have been well established.

Scientists believe that in the early days of the solar system, climates on Mars and Earth were more similar than they are now.  They also say that about one billion tons of rock traveled from Mars to Earth and microbes have been shown to be capable of surviving the initial shock of impacting the Earth's surface.

According to a press release, the MIT researchers are developing a device that can take samples of Martian soil and isolate any living microbes that might be present and separate out the genetic material in order to use standard biochemical techniques to analyze their genetic sequences.

"It's a long shot," Carr said in a press release, "but if we go to Mars and find life that's related to us, we could have originated on Mars. Or if it started here, it could have been transferred to Mars." Either way, "we could be related to life on Mars. So we should at least be looking for life on Mars that's related to us."

Although the surface of Mars today is too cold and dry to support known life forms, there is evidence that liquid water may exist below the surface.

"On Mars today, the best place to look for life is in the subsurface," Carr said.

The researchers believe that it could take two more years to complete the design and testing of a prototype SETG device.  The device could eventually be used on a future lander or rover Mars missions.

NASA's twin Viking landers were the last instruments to be sent to Mars to look for evidence of alien life, which was in 1976.

Christopher McKay, an astrobiologist at NASA-Ames Research Center in California who specializes in research related to the possibility of life on Mars, said in a press release that this work is "very interesting and important."

"It is not implausible that life on Mars will be related to life on Earth and therefore share a common genetics. In any case it would be important to test this hypothesis," said McKay.


Image 1: Photograph of a Martian sunset taken by Spirit at Gusev crater, May 19, 2005. Credit: NASA

Image 2: This 1 inch by 1 inch microfluidic chip is part of the SETG instrument prototype. Tiny channels feed in the samples to be analyzed and control the fluidic circuitry on the chip. Blue light excites fluorescent dyes that help identify DNA within 3072 cubic chambers, each about the width of a human hair, or one billionth of a liter in size. Image credit: C. Carr. (Image previously featured in Popular Science)


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