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Becker Abstract

Mars: What we could know in 20 years (and how)
Luann Becker (JHU)
The search for extinct organic matter (i.e., organic matter generated by now-extinct organisms) in rocks, sediments, and ices from Mars or ‘extant’ (living organisms) organic matter on Mars is critical to the determination of where life exists present or past. Future missions to Mars also have the potential to address whether life arose there in a separate origin and may further provide information about our own prebiotic evolution, a record that has all but been erased from Earth’s crust. Several joint missions between NASA and ESA are planned in the next decade that may enable us to search for clues of life in a liquid water environment. It seems clear that the potential for learning about life beyond our own planet is one of considerable interest to scientists and the general public alike. Yet, as we learned from the Viking and Phoenix missions, the search for life signs is problematic and requires an appropriate strategy that will maximize our opportunities to properly examine these compelling questions. Another potential hurdle to the search for past or present life on Mars is the forward contamination of the planet with either terrestrial organisms or biomolecules. This problem makes it essential that organic analyses be carried out as ‘cleanly’ as possible in order to provide a useful baseline data set for comparison with other landed missions and possibly a sample return mission in the future. This talk discusses, briefly, what is known about the organic matter on Mars and further addresses techniques and strategies for future missions to Mars and beyond.