Science

Was there ever life on Mars? The history of our hunt for extraterrestrials

Scientists are seeking signs of ancient life.

Mars has been a target for exploration since the 1600s, when scientists wondered whether extraterrestrial beings populated the planet.

Carlos Fernandez

In the late 1800s, astronomer Percival Lowell claimed to see canals carved into the Martian surface, “proving” the existence of intelligent life.

But missions to the Red Planet in the 1960s and 70s ruled out the canal theory.

NASA

Early missions, like NASA’s Mariner 9 orbiter, revealed riverbed-like features, showing that Mars could have once hosted flowing water on its surface.

ESA

In the early 2000s, NASA’s rovers Spirit and Opportunity found geological features that only could have formed in a watery world.

NASA

Then the Curiosity rover landed on Mars in 2012 and immediately started finding even stronger evidence for an ancient, Earth-like world, covered in water.

NASA

Curiosity even found fragments of large organic molecules in Martian soil.

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Finding organics is not proof of life, but it’s still a step in the right direction.

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NASA’s Perseverance rover will continue this search for life. It’s slated to land on Mars in February 2021.

NASA

The rover will also collect samples of Martian rocks and soil to leave for a future return mission.

NASA

The European Space Agency’s Rosalind Franklin rover, slated to launch in 2022, will also look for life on Mars.

ESA

Even more missions will be heading to Mars this decade. Check them out here.

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