For decades the debate has raged over whether Mars has life—or ever supported life. Now a team of Australian scientists report in the journal Astrobiology ["An Extensive Phase Space for the Potential Martian Biosphere"] that Mars probably not only has existing life, but the Red Planet is likely teeming with life across "large parts" of its alien landscape.
Other scientists agree
"The discovery of liquid water on Mars combined with earlier discoveries of organic substances in a meteorite that came from Mars, and also of methane in the Martian atmosphere all point to the existence of life—contemporary life—on the Red Planet," astrobiologist Chandra Wickramasinghe has asserted. The world renowned scientists has gone so far as to accuse the US space agency of hiding data proving life exists on Mars.
Another critic of NASA's approach to the exploration of Mars and the search for Martian life is one of the lead scientists responsible for scientific experiments conducted by the Viking probes during the 1970s, Dr. Gil Levin. He's also consistently made the claim that Viking discovered Martian life. Levin has a tendency to boil over whenever the subject is raised.
Wickramasinghe argues that, "I am not speaking of fossilized life but contemporary life."
The professor of applied mathematics and astronomy at the University of Cardiff in Wales also cites the Viking experiment of 35 years ago, and is certain that Levin is correct.
Mars is habitable
Dr. Charles Lineweaver [Video interview] and his team from the Australian National University worked with Eriita G. Jones, the lead author of the study, comparing data they had gathered from a previous study that modeled the various temperatures and pressures of Earth and Mars.
Their research sought to determine what percentage of Mars was likely to support organisms that already existed on Earth.
Although only about a bare one percent of Earth supports life, Lineweaver noted that an incredible three percent of Mars could support life as we know it—though much of it would seek safety from the surface environment by surviving underground.
Upon the conclusion of the research, Lineweaver determined that Mars is probably inhabited. "There are large regions of Mars that are compatible with terrestrial life," he said.
Most Mars researchers agree that at one time in its past Mars had oceans. Evidence exists that water may flow on the surface of Mars even today.
Sir Charles Shults III, who worked at Martin Marietta, wrote nuclear EMP test software. and designed advanced military systems, is a knighted Brit recognized for his engineering and scientific achievements.
He believes evidence of life is scattered all over the surface of Mars and that NASA had to go out of its way to avoid it.
Shults has written several books and compiled an impressive array of photographs to support his hypothesis that ancient, advanced life forms were once ubiquitous across Mars—in the oceans and on land.
Will Curiosity find Martian life?
Lineweaver, and his colleagues, are concerned and critical about NASA's much touted new mission to Mars. The scientist frets over the possibility that the Martian robot explorer cannot dig deep enough to find the life he's sure is there. The robot—about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle—is due to drop into the Martian Gale Crater during August of 2012. [See "Curiosity can't dig deep"]
Meanwhile, since Gil Levin remains certain that the Viking space probe experiments revealed life exists on Mars he probably believes that Curiosity has a good chance of confirming that.
If the new Martian robotic explorer does confirm life exists, then Levin and Wickramasinghe, and many other planetary scientists like them, will be vindicated.