A report in New Scientist suggests the evidence for life on the Red Planet could be as plain as those lumps of rocks that scatter the landscape in all the photos we’ve seen a thousand times.
There’s never been any sign of complex carbon-based molecules on Mars, but sulphur is all over the place, more than on earth. Some microbes in our own backyard convert sulphates to sulphides as a by-product of their activity. Intriguing evidence of this microbial work has been found at crater sites – and similar tests could be carried on Mars relatively easily.
All we need is a Mars Lander fitted with the right tools. Oh, one’s already planned? When’s it hitting the red dust?
NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover will land on the Martian surface in 2012. It will carry a mass spectrometer that should be sensitive enough to see variations as small as 2 per cent in sulphur isotope abundances, says John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, the lead scientist for the mission.