Sunrises on Mars are always strange
to behold. I watched a small white globe cut through a cobalt-blue haze over
Olympus Mons, cascading its light dimly across the red planet’s dusty surface.
I’d been living here almost three years, and the sight never ceased to
captivate me. The most morbid part of me imagined what it would be like if I
tore off my protective suit and felt the Martian elements for myself. If I
didn’t die from being flash-frozen first, I’d lose consciousness within little
more than fifteen seconds. Hardly enough time to feel the dusty breeze on my
icy skin, no? People on Earth don’t know how lucky they are, how much they take
-Eric Malikyte, Echoes of Olympus
Forgive me for referencing my own work, but I think it’s a good
excerpt that illustrates how strikingly alien Mars is compared to our world,
and what it might be like to stand on its surface and observe the sunrise.
Mars is a dead world.
Its core is dead, and the magnetic field that once protected
the red planet from the solar wind with it (all that remains of it are
scattered pockets of magnetic activity). Yet, despite that, Mars continues to captivate
us, inspiring us with its eerie crimson sand dunes, and unique geological
features. The world is as alien as it gets in many ways, and yet it’s so
familiar to us.
We’ve been observing the red planet for as long as we’ve had
telescopes, and we’ve been enamored with its behavior in the heavens since ancient
Egypt. Long before the advent of high-powered telescopes and probes that could
directly image and map the surface of the planet existed, humanity dreamed of
flowing rivers and canals of water, and Martians that we might one day meet.
Sadly, when we finally did get a clear view of Mars, it looked highly unlikely
that life could have ever survived there.
But many scientists theorize that Mars wasn’t always
In fact, there’s quite a bit of evidence to suggest that Mars
was hit by a world-ending asteroid or comet in the distant past which may have caused
quite a bit of material from the surface of the planet to be ejected into
We’ve discovered Martian meteorites right here on Earth, even!
And what’s really cool, is that there’s growing proof that these meteorites
have fossilized microbes (and possibly even bacteria) in them. Granted, there’s
still quite a bit of debate on the subject; but since the discovery of liquid,
running water on Mars recently, the evidence is kind of hard to ignore.
The article in question, however, suggests that life may have
originated on Mars long before the Earth was even finished forming.
“Planetesimals, the rocky building blocks of planets, likely
had all the ingredients necessary for life as we know it way back at the dawn
of the solar system,” said Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the director of Arizona State University’s (ASU)
Earth and Space Exploration and principal investigator of NASA’s upcoming
mission to the odd metallic asteroid Psyche. “And clement conditions may have
persisted inside some planetesimals for tens of millions of years – perhaps long
enough for life to emerge. Some planetesimals survived into and beyond the
planet-forming period, raising the possibility that one of these primitive
bodies may have seeded Earth with life.”
“Some things are going to fall – like Chelyabinks, for example
(the meteor that exploded over the Russian city of the same name) – back onto
the surface of a temperate planet,” she added. “So, there is that possibility
in the end.”
This idea grew out of a course that Elkins-Tanton taught at
ASU in the fall of 2016, having asked students to consider whether life could
have evolved on smaller bodies. Over the course of several months, Ekins-Tanton,
her co-author on the newly presented work, Stephen West, as well as her
students, explored this idea, as well as a host of questions raised.
Elkins-Tanton went on to explain that these planetesimals
formed within 1.5 million years of our star system’s birth, likely featuring
all of the key three ingredients for allowing life to form: liquid water,
organic molecules, and an energy source.
35 different amino acids have been identified in the
Murchison meteorite, an ancient space rock that fell to earth in Australia in
The Murchison meteorite is so full of organics that it “smells
like an oil well,” Elkins-Tanton said. “What could be a better place for the
advent of life than a nice, warm, wet piece of Murchison? So, that’s the idea
we’re starting with.”
Elkins-Tanton goes on to explain that most early signs of
life date back to 3.8 billion years ago. But some scientists have presented
evidence that microbes already had a foothold here by 4.1 billion years ago.
(Be sure to check out the full article, first link in the
Given the evidence of a massive impact on Mars in the distant
past, is it possible that this impact event was also an extinction event? One
that likely could have shot Martian debris in our forming planet’s direction.
How poetic would it be if it turned out that the death of Mars
turned out to be the catalyst that jumpstarted the evolution of life on Earth?