JUN 01, 2015 05:25 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
JUN 24, 2018
Space & Astronomy
JUN 24, 2018
Rocket Lab to Conduct First Commercial Spaceflight Since Conception
Flying enormous rockets to outer space isn’t the world’s cheapest endeavor, but it’s a necessary expense for satellite-reliant companies...
JUL 02, 2018
Videos
JUL 02, 2018
Watch SpaceX's Dragon Cargo Ship Dock with the International Space Station
Just as expected, SpaceX’s Dragon cargo spaceship docked with the International Space Station on Monday to provide crew members with fresh food, supp...
JUL 17, 2018
Videos
JUL 17, 2018
About That EM Drive Idea...
Traveling through space requires a lot of fuel, and this limitation defines just how far we can go. Physicists have been experimenting with the ‘impo...
AUG 29, 2018
Space & Astronomy
AUG 29, 2018
Ever Wonder How Long it Takes to Get to Mars? Watch This
Sending missions to Mars isn’t as easy as it may seem at first glance. The solar system is continuously shifting as planets orbit the Sun, so it&rsqu...
SEP 04, 2018
Space & Astronomy
SEP 04, 2018
This NASA Rocket Will Spend 15 Minutes Gawking at the Sun with X-Ray Vision
NASA is currently eyeballing Friday, September 7th for the third consecutive launch of its Focusing Optics X-ray Solar Imager (FOXSI), a space vehicle spec...
SEP 16, 2018
Space & Astronomy
SEP 16, 2018
NASA Launches ICESat-2 Satellite to Study Earth's Ice Loss with Lasers
A United Launch Alliance-branded Delta II rocket took to the skies from a Vandenberg Air Force Base, California-based launch pad on Saturday to deploy NASA...
Loading Comments...