Contributed by Etienne Didoult
Mars: ‘Catastrophic’ Collision Killed Life on Red Planet
July 19, 2013.
A major ‘catastrophic’ collision may have killed life on Mars (the Red
Planet) four billion years ago, scientists say. According to them, this event
resulted in the death of an entire alien race. The scientists were constructing
their findings on data returned by the Curiosity rover.
NASA scientists believe that the massive collision perhaps caused by volcanic
eruptions or a devastating crash with a Pluto-sized planet, caused the air to
shrink and strip away and kill any forms life on the planet.
Dr. Chris Webster at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, lead
author on the study, said,
“As Mars became a planet and its magma ocean solidified, catastrophic
outgassing occurred while volatiles were delivered by impact of comets and other
smaller bodies. Solar wind and the possible impact by a Pluto-sized body is
thought to have stripped much of the initial early atmosphere from the planet,
and since then the atmosphere has developed as a balance between volcanic
injection and loss to space.”
Life on Mars existed billions of years ago, scientists believe, before a
catastrophic collision killed it.
The study of the Curiosity rover’s data has found that the atmosphere on Mars
at one time was denser and wetter, leading scientists to believe that it
contained oxygen long before the atmosphere on Earth did.
A sample drilled from a Martian sedimentary bedrock was found to contain clay
minerals, sulfate minerals, and other chemicals. Minerals, including hydrogen,
carbon and oxygen, were also found in rocks picked up by the Curiosity. These
are the building blocks of life, NASA scientists say.
Researchers, analyzing the chemicals in the rocks, were able to conclude that
the water that helped form these rocks were of a relatively neutral pH.
Scientists said the finding could represent another step forward to proving the
existence of conditions that could support life on Mars.
“A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported
a habitable environment,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars
Exploration Program. “From what we know now, the answer is yes.”
NASA scientists were also probing the Martian atmosphere for methane after a
telescope on Earth had detected an unexpected and mysterious amount of the gas
in western hemisphere of the Red Planet. On Earth, methane is mainly a
by-product of life, from animal digestion and decaying plants. The gas can also
be produced by non-biological processes.
According to scientists the presence of methane could have suggested there
was some form of life still lingering on the planet. However, the Curiosity
rover did not find any methane. This has disappointed scientists who believe
microbes may still exist on the planet.
NASA says the new results from Curiosity will make it possible for scientists
to replicate the evolution of the Martian climate over time. It will also allow
them to determine whether the planet was warm and wet once upon a time and if it
might have had the right conditions for life.
NASA’s Dr. Paul Mahaffy and a lead scientist in the study said:
“A fundamental question regarding the habitability of early Mars is how long
liquid water, in the form of lakes, or even oceans, might have persisted on the
surface to support microbial life that may have been present.”
John Grunsfeld, an official at NASA said the finding makes him “feel giddy.”
He added that the new data adds to the image of Mars containing a possible
freshwater lake and a snow-capped Mount Sharp before a catastrophic collision on
the Red Planet killed life.
Curiosity, a six-wheeled robot was sent Mars on a two year mission. It made a
dramatic landing last August on Mars equator.