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Mars, eh?

Canada’s important and growing contribution to Mars exploration

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Given that all of the elements in the Universe are understood to have formed in the Big Bang (and subsequently by the energy created by exploding suns) — and given all the ways that these individual elements form compounds under different conditions — it would appear that the rudimentary building blocks for life are quite common. Those building blocks are liquid water, and basic chemicals (mainly carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen), as well as a consistant source of energy from a nearby star. Put those ingredients on any planet in sufficient qualities and it’s believed that life can just happen.

While astronomers and scientists have always believed that organic life was at least statistically probable elsewhere in the universe — given the hundreds of billions of stars in our own galaxy, and the hundreds of billion of galaxies in the Universe — finding past or present evidence of life on Mars would prove once and for all that life is possible, if not inevitable, whenever a basic set of elements and system conditions is present.

Mars, Earth’s second-closest celestial neighbour (Venus is closer most of the time), contains many of the same elements as our planet. Because of the thin atmosphere it also receives a similar amount of solar energy even if the sun is half as bright from that distance.

According to the Wikipedia entry, with input from NASA:

“Conditions on the surface of Mars are much closer to habitability than the surface of any other planet or moon, as seen by the extremely hot and cold temperatures on Mercury, the furnace-hot surface of Venus, or the cryogenic cold of the outer planets and their moons. Only the cloud tops of Venus are closer in terms of habitability to Earth than Mars is. There are natural settings on Earth where humans have explored that match most conditions on Mars. The highest altitude reached by a manned balloon ascent, a record set in May, 1961, was 34,668 meters (113,740 feet). The pressure at that altitude is about the same as on the surface of Mars. Extreme cold in the Arctic and Antarctic match all but the most extreme temperatures on Mars.”

Although the chances of finding life are slim, Mars may be our first and best chance to prove that we’re not alone in the Universe.