The search for biology on neighbor planet Mars won’t play out like a Hollywood movie starring little green men. Rather, many scientists agree if there was life on the Red Planet, it probably will present itself as fossilized bacteria. To find it, astrobiologists likely will need to decode the chemical analysis of rock samples performed by a rover (like the one NASA plans to send to Mars in 2020). Only then might humankind know conclusively that life exists beyond Earth.
A new paper in the journal Astrobiology suggests NASA and others hunting for proof of Martian biology in the form of “microfossils” could use the element vanadium in combination with Raman spectroscopy on organic material as biosignatures to confirm traces of extraterrestrial life.
“You’ve got your work cut out if you’re looking at ancient sedimentary rock for microfossils here on Earth — and even more so on Mars,” said Craig Marshall, the paper’s lead author and an associate professor of geology at the University of Kansas. “On Earth, the rocks have been here for 3.5 billion years, and tectonic collisions and realignments have put a lot of stress and pressure on rocks. Also, these rocks can get buried, and temperature increases with depth.” [More at links]