About water on Mars, the origins of life and the future of Earth

MOSCOW. (Alexander Bagrov for RIA Novosti) - "Martian water has been touched and tasted" by NASA's Phoenix lander spacecraft, which has identified water in a sample of soil collected from Mars. This will expand our so far fragmented and incomplete knowledge about the origins of the Solar System.

It will also benefit evolutionary biologists looking for the origins of life. Currently they can study life on Earth, which is not enough for learning the origins of life and the rules of its development. Water is life, and finding extraterrestrial life would be extremely important for learning more about the world around us.

Part of the reason we are so eagerly searching for extraterrestrial life is that we have not yet determined the origins of life on the Earth.

Water on Mars, where the average temperature is minus 40 degrees Celsius, and drops to minus 120 some winter nights, exists only as ice. It cannot exist in liquid form in the rarefied atmosphere of the Red Planet, which cannot retain warmth for prolonged periods.

What is the origin of water on Mars? Was it "delivered" by comets, those universal water carriers? I suspect it was comets that initially brought water to the Earth, all of whose oceans, seas and rivers began with comet water.

Likewise, the ice found on Mars most likely came from elsewhere; it is frozen water brought to the planet by a comet. In future, the use of comet material will have a major effect on the development of technologies and life on the Earth.

Local water sources are crucial for the future colonization of Mars. Sooner or later, our technologies will create conditions suited to humans on Mars, though a manned flight is improbable in the next few centuries.

Many countries would like to study Mars, but so far only the United States and Russia have the technology and funds. They may soon be joined, however, by the European Space Agency, which has decided to start the search for the origins of life stipulated in the Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 program in our own Solar System.

Manned spacecraft will not be sent to Mars anytime in the near future, and that is a good thing. Solving technical problems is the easiest part of a mission to Mars. Over the millions of years of the Earth's existence, the number of meteors crossing its trajectory has been nearly exhausted, but they may still prove to be a formidable hazard on the way to Mars.

Another threat to manned missions is deadly cosmic radiation, notably solar proton particle radiation.

So far, our manned spacecraft have worked at an altitude of 250 km (820,210 feet) where they are protected by the Earth's magnetic field, which deflects these particles. There will be no such protection in outer space, where cosmic radiation will spare spacecraft but kill humans.

So we must invent reliable protection against such hazards before planning manned interplanetary flights.

The Soviet Union's Mars missions initially failed. The first attempts, made on October 10 and 14, 1960, were both unsuccessful. Ten years and 11 missions later, the Mars-3 spacecraft landed near the Ptolemaeus Crater and took many photographs of the Marsscape, which looked very much like river canyons.

This made scientists wonder if there had been water on Mars. We know now that it was not always a dry and cold planet, as we had always thought; it was once warm and humid, with rivers presumably capable of supporting life.

But why did it lose its water? What kind of cataclysm could do this to a planet? Had it been habitable before this happened? So far, these are questions without answers.

Earth and Mars are very similar in their chemical composition, like blood relatives. In their initial stages, their development was also similar. Does this mean that the Earth could suffer the fate of the Mars? And can we do anything to prevent this?

Doctor of Physics and Mathematics, Alexander Bagrov, is a leading research associate of the Astronomy Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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