Unless you have been living in a cave for the last month, you’ve heard about liquid water on mars. The announcement was made by NASA on September 28th, 2015. Anyone remotely interested in science was more than excited: liquid water on mars means the probability of finding life on the planet just got that much higher.
This short video by SciShow, is a great introduction to the water on mars.
Liquid Water on Mars, via SciShow on Youtube.
I, however, don’t want to talk about the liquid water on mars. Well, I do, I could talk about it for days on end, but today, I want to talk about something else.
The first thought lots of people are having is “Great we found water! Let’s send the rover over to go look at it!” At first glance, that sounds like a great idea. The Curiosity rover that is currently on mars could go take pictures of the water, collect samples, and do tests. Even better, the rover is only thirty miles away!
The problem though, is we can’t. We could go collect samples, but we’re not allowed to. The Outer Space Treaty signed in 1967 says that outer space has to be used for peaceful purposes. Countries can’t lay claim to other planets or moons, and they aren’t allowed to take nuclear weapons up in to space, and say firing them from our moon for example.
The treaty also prevents us from sending a mission close to a water source on any other planet. This is to prevent contaminating it with life from Earth. Microbial contamination on Mars, or any planet’s water source would be catastrophic. First off, future researchers wouldn’t be able to distinguish what was life from Earth and what was native to the planet. Secondly, even the smallest contamination from Earth could wipe out the planet’s entire ecosystem. As Hank Green put it, “[It would be] the most epic case of invasive species in human history.”
Exploring the liquid water on mars hasn’t been completely ruled out, however. There are ways to get around the contamination problem. The first theoretical solution that’s been proposed is to blast the rover with extreme heat and radiation. Doing this would definitely eliminate bacterial life, but it would also destroy all of the rover’s internal computers, which is a problem to say the least.
Another idea that’s being thrown around is to create rovers and send them up to mars. Once they arrive, these rovers would build another rover or smaller robot, using 3D printers. This could potentially ensure that there is no life contamination.
For now, we have evidence that there is liquid water on mars. Sometime in the next couple decades we’ll be able to test the water. And maybe, just maybe, sometime in my lifetime, I’ll see the day when we find life on mars. And if that isn’t exciting, I don’t know what is.