Towards finding life on Mars
I’m just recently back from a fascinating conference at beautiful Lake Tahoe, Nevada: Biosignature Preservation and Detection in Mars Analog Environments.
The meeting was spawned by the realization that we’re never going to nail down where we should be looking for life on Mars unless we draw on the specialist knowledge of people from a wide range of disciplines. We had biologists, Earth geologists, geochemists and Mars scientists, all in a room together throwing around ideas. The full report on the outcome is being put together by a crack writing team as we speak.
One of the major takeaways from the meeting was that it’s really hard to preserve biosignatures over long timeframes. When put on the spot about how best to preserve them, the cry was ‘encase them in silica!’ This kind of stuff is essential to know when assessing the potential of a landing site using mineralogical evidence from orbit.
Another interesting point was the relevance of places where life almost certainly *isn’t* - on Earth, life is pretty much everywhere, so it’s very difficult to determine if a texture or structure can only form if life is there to influence it. This points to lunar research as an important component to our quest to find life on Mars.
So why was I was there, Mercury girl that I’ve been for the last three years? Well, I’ve had the good fortune to land a postdoctoral position at LASP in Boulder, Colorado in which I can do research on both Mercury and my first love, Mars. For the last few months I’ve been getting stuck in to a suspicion I have that impact craters around regions of chaos (areas where the surface is all broken up due to subsidence and fluid outflow) could be astrobiologically intriguing. I presented my preliminary work in a poster at the conference, linked to from the thumbnail on the right. It’s a work in progress, but definitely looks promising. Watch this space!