Is or was there life on Mars? That is one of the biggest and most hotly debated questions in planetary science. The manner in which the evidence has been searched for is also a topic of much discussion. The Viking landers in the 1970s were the first to look for direct evidence for microbial life still existing in the Martian soil, and the results are still regarded as inconclusive, with both pro and con supporters debating whether the landers actually found living microbes or just unusual soil chemistry. Subsequent lander and rover missions have focused more on determining whether conditions in Mars’ ancient past were habitable and able to support life as we know it, rather than searching directly for evidence of past or present life itself.
This photo taken a few days ago by the Curiosity rover has been getting a lot of attention. The object near the centre of the image looks a lot like a femur-type bone! This image was taken on sol 719 of the mission, at the entrance to Hidden Valley where Curiosity is ready to start drilling again at a site just a few feet away called Bonanza King.
A recent discovery by scientists may have implications for possible extraterrestrial life: Bacteria have been found thriving in a lake of oil in Trinidad, again showing how life can exist in even the most inhospitable conditions on Earth. The discovery brings to mind the similar environment on Saturn’s moon Titan, where lakes and seas of liquid hydrocarbons (methane/ethane) exist at the moon’s poles.
After a ten year journey, the Rosetta spacecraft finally arrived earlier today at comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The close-up images sent back so far are amazing. Rosetta is now in orbit around the comet, the first spacecraft to ever do so. There will be many more images to come, and in November, the lander module, Philae, will attempt to land on the surface. Stay tuned!
Some new images are coming in of comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko from the Rosetta spacecraft. Unexpectedly, it seems to be a contact binary, two objects in close contact instead of just one larger cometary nucleus (there’s no tail right now). It’s a weird shape, called a “boot” or “rubber duckie” by some. Rosetta is getting closer to the comet now, and scheduled to arrive on August 6, 2014. A probe will then attempt to land on the comet in November. Should be interesting!
I’ve added a new feature to the blog, so that if you are using the Safari browser (Mavericks version), you can get new blog posts automatically pushed to your Mac desktop as notifications. Another alternative to email or rss. If you use that browser, go to the blog (refresh if necessary) and you should get a pop-up asking if you would like to get notifications. You will then get notifications of new posts automatically pushed from Safari to your Mac desktop.