JUN 01, 2015 5:25 AM PDT

A Rust of a Different Color Could Mean Life on Mars

The search for life on other planets is an age old quest. Astronomers, scientists, astronauts and regular backyard stargazers are always looking skyward for clues to where in the universe other forms of life might be. Neil Armstrong's moon landing and NASA's subsequent missions there ruled out the presence of "moon men" or any other creatures, but still we search. So where to look next?
The Curiosity rover is currently studying Gale Crater on Mars for clues to life
Today's efforts center mostly on Mars. Mars is where it's at in the exploration to find other forms of life beyond our own planet. So what's the latest? The Curiosity rover is there, rolling over the red ground taking samples and sending back images. Currently the rover is closely examining an area called Gale Crater. Gale Crater has at its center a three mile high mountain, with many layers that serve as proof of the areas geological history. Scientists are fairly certain the area once contained water and methane, both of which are necessary components for life.

Those two elements are not enough however, they need a catalyst in order for life to develop. A recently published paper by NASA Planetary Scientist Laurie Barge details the possibility of rust as that catalyst, but not just any rust. The mineral iron will rust when exposed to oxygen and turn an orange red, as it does on the surface of the planet. But another form of rust, one that could possibly nurture life, could exist just below the surface of the red planet. This rust is green, because it isn't oxidized and if found, could tell scientists much about the possibility of life on Mars.

Green rust is uncommon on Earth but was discovered in 2012 in Matano Lake in Indonesia, unique for its lack of oxygen. Some theories say that green rust might have been instrumental in the beginnings of life on Earth and therefore the same could hold true on Mars.

The surface of Mars is also low in oxygen so iron present on the surface would not immediately break down, but rather develop a green rust, setting in motion a chain of events where life could develop. In statement at the American Geophysical Union's Joint Assembly meeting Barge explained, "From an environmental science perspective, green rust can absorb and concentrate nutrients, and can also accept and donate electrons for life."

Future missions to Mars, one from NASA and one from the European Space Agency, will have the ability to drill into the planet's surface to look for this unoxidized green rust. Barge told the scientists at the Joint Assembly that more study is needed before these missions launch to better understand how green rust acts as a pre-cursor to life on any planet. An article on Space.com quoted Barge as saying, "There's a theory proposed by Michael Russell at JPL that green rust could have acted as a proto-enzyme to convert energy currencies on early Earth. Green rust is especially interesting in this regard because it is a double layered hydroxide that can sandwich all sorts of interesting components relevant to life in between these layers."

Check out the video below for more information on green rust.
About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
You May Also Like
JUL 26, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Active Volcanoes Discovered on Venus
JUL 26, 2020
Active Volcanoes Discovered on Venus
New research has identified 37 volcanic structures on Venus that are thought to have been active recently.
AUG 24, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Asteroid May Collide With Earth in November
AUG 24, 2020
Asteroid May Collide With Earth in November
NASA has said that an asteroid known as 2018VP1 is heading towards Earth, and may potentially collide with our planet on ...
SEP 08, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Reusable Chinese Space Craft Lands Returns Earth
SEP 08, 2020
Reusable Chinese Space Craft Lands Returns Earth
The Chinese government has announced the safe return of a reusable spacecraft, called Chongfu Shiyong Shiyan Hangtian Qi ...
SEP 10, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Could There Be Life on Venus?
SEP 10, 2020
Could There Be Life on Venus?
Venus is the hottest planet in our solar system, reaching 465 degrees Celcius- a temperature hot enough to melt lead. Wh ...
OCT 09, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Ultra-hot Exoplanet Vaporizes Iron in its Atmosphere
OCT 09, 2020
Ultra-hot Exoplanet Vaporizes Iron in its Atmosphere
Researchers from the University of Bern in Germany have found that an exoplanet, known as WASP-121b, is so hot that it c ...
OCT 22, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Why Do Galaxies Come in Different Shapes?
OCT 22, 2020
Why Do Galaxies Come in Different Shapes?
When looking it galaxies, it takes little to realize that they come in different shapes- whether they're swirling bl ...
Loading Comments...