Ancient Mars featured flowing rivers and sizable lakes — but that doesn't mean the Red Planet definitely could have supported life, one prominent researcher stresses.
The presence of liquid water is just one of many factors that researchers need to take into account when investigating the past or present habitability of Mars or any other cosmic body, astrobiologist and mineralogist Pamela Conrad wrote in a "Perspectives" piece published online on Dec. 11 in the journal Science.
"The things that make a place livable are numerous, and sometimes, there's a showstopper you didn't think of," Conrad, deputy principal investigator for the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument aboard NASA's Curiosity rover, told SPACE.com. "So it's important to take a poll of the diversity of attributes that could contribute to making an environment livable or not."
Via NY Times:
Today Mars is an arid, frigid desert, suggesting that the mother of all climate changes happened there, about four billion years ago or so. The question that haunts planetary scientists is why? And could it happen here?
"I think the short story is the atmosphere went away and the oceans froze but are still there, locked up in subsurface ice," said Chris McKay, an astrobiologist and Mars expert at NASA's Ames Research Center.
In September a new spacecraft known as Maven, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission, swung into orbit around the planet. Its job is to get a longer answer to one part of the mysterious Martian climate change, namely where the planet's atmosphere went.
In MAVEN's first few weeks of instrument testing at the Red Planet, scientists have already created some of the most complete maps of atomic hydrogen, oxygen, carbon and ozone in the Martian atmosphere ever made. One of MAVEN's instruments even collected data as energetic particles blasted out by a massive solar eruption made it to Mars.