NASA will launch its latest Mars rover, the Maven, today on an unmanned Atlas V rocket to study its atmosphere, the Associated Press reports. Maven (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN) follows the Curiosity rover that was launched in 2011, landed in 2012, and continues to send back an incredible amount of information about the surface of Mars.
Argument for the Martian origin of life on Earth
Mars was once a warm and humid planet with conditions that could support life, but eventually became dry and cold. Some scientists think the early Martian environment was actually more favorable for early life and that life on Earth may have started on Mars and been transported by a passing meteorite. Bizarre as it sounds, we might be the original space invaders.
The argument hinges on two facts. First, we now know that there was plenty of oxidized molybdenum on Mars long ago while there wasn’t much on Earth. Most people haven’t heard of molybdenum, but scientists believe it was essential for early life. “It’s only when molybdenum becomes highly oxidized that it is able to influence how early life formed,” says biochemist Steven Benner of the Westheimer Institute for Science and Technology. “This form of molybdenum couldn’t have been available on Earth at the time life first began, because 3 billion years ago, the surface of the Earth had very little oxygen, but Mars did. It’s yet another piece of evidence which makes it more likely life came to Earth on a Martian meteorite, rather than starting on this planet.”
Maven the next step for manned mission to Mars
The other argument is that water corrodes RNA, which scientists believe was the original basis of life, with DNA only forming later on. Since the Earth used to be covered in water while Mars had dry patches, the red planet was a more likely candidate for life a few billion years ago. Not all scientists support the idea that life was carried here on a meteorite, but it’s more plausible than most people realize the first time they hear it.
No one expects Maven to answer those questions conclusively, but learning about the atmosphere on Mars will shed some light on the matter and bring us slightly closer to the day when we send humans to Mars instead of unmanned rovers.