New mission searches for life on Mars The Proton-M rocket booster blasts off at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Monday, March 14, 2016. The Russian rocket carries an orbiter for measuring atmospheric gases of Mars and a Mars lander of the 'ExoMars 2016' mission. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)
New mission searches for life on Mars
Lexile

Assign to Google Classroom

Europe and Russia have launched a joint mission to explore the atmosphere of Mars and hunt for signs of life on the red planet.
 
The unmanned ExoMars probe is a partnership between the European Space Agency and Roscosmos. It took off March 14. The probe is aboard a Russian rocket. It is expected to reach Mars in October.
 
The probe's Trace Gas Orbiter will analyze methane and other gases in the Martian atmosphere. It wants to determine where they are coming from. This is according to Paolo Ferri, ESA's head of mission operations.
 
Methane is created by biological or geological activity. It breaks down within a relatively short period of time once it reaches the atmosphere.
 
"It cannot be older than 400 years. That means there has been either biological or geological activity in this timeframe," said Ferri. "Four hundred years is nothing. If there is methane, it means there is basically a process going on now."
 
The prospect of finding life on Mars, even microscopic organisms, has excited scientists for some time. So far, none has been discovered.
 
"The fact that they've not found life doesn't mean certainly that there's no life there," said Ferri. He noted that much of the planet's vast surface hasn't been closely examined.
 
That task will fall to a rover that ESA plans to send to Mars in 2018. Until then, the orbiter will have time to find a good landing spot. It will conduct a test run using a trial lander. The lander's name is Schiaparelli. It is on board the probe.
 
If life is discovered, it actually raises questions about whether future manned missions to the planet should be attempted, said Mark McCaughrean. He is senior science adviser at ESA.
 
"Weirdly, if we find life on Mars, it actually really begs the question if we should go at all with human beings because of that idea of planetary protection," he said at ESA mission control. It is in Darmstadt, Germany. "We would take with us bugs. And if now those bugs meet Martian bugs, that could be a disaster."
 
Landing a spacecraft on Mars is particularly difficult. Several attempts have failed. One included ESA's Beagle 2 probe that was part of the Mars Express mission in 2003. Beagle 2 disappeared during the landing process. It was a setback the agency is keen to avoid this time, hence the decision to separate the orbiter mission from the actual landing attempt.
 
"It was quite clear that putting both things in one mission drove up the complexity," said Ferri.
 
ExoMars cost the European Space Agency alone $1.44 billion. ExoMars is the first interplanetary mission jointly undertaken by ESA and Roscosmos.
 
The orbiter also has a NASA-built radio on board. The radio will help relay signals from other Mars probes.

Filed Under:  
Assigned 223 times
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why did Paolo Ferri say “Four hundred years is nothing?”
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (77)
  • josiec-1-bar
    3/18/2016 - 06:53 p.m.

    Paolo Ferri says that "Four hundred years is nothing?" because if there is currently methane in the Martian atmosphere now then there are processes of biological or geological activity occurring now. The idea of finding life on Mars excite scientists because it means that there are possiblitlies of human life on Mars. My opinion it's that it would be very cool if people were sent to Mars and started to colonize the planet just like the movie the "Martian."

  • taylorp-1-bar
    3/18/2016 - 08:14 p.m.

    Paolo Ferri says that because of the process was already going on, then it would take a very short time for the methane to set in. I thought this article was okay, but it was a little confusing.

  • ryanh-ver
    3/18/2016 - 09:10 p.m.

    If we do find life there would it be possible to find somethings that may help us if something happens to Earth? Also if we don't find anything after 2018 is it possible for another landing to search for life?

  • michaela-ver
    3/18/2016 - 11:09 p.m.

    i think that it is fascinating that they are trying to find life on mars

  • alaynat-kut
    3/19/2016 - 03:06 p.m.

    Because compared to how long Mars has been in existence 400 years is relatively recent in Mars's 'lifetime'. Plus for a planet that will probably 'live' for a long time.

  • kevinc-612-
    3/19/2016 - 08:50 p.m.

    He said that, because Mars has been alive for a long time.

  • taylorh-4-bar
    3/20/2016 - 12:34 a.m.

    Paolo Ferri said "Four hundred years is nothing" because four hundred years is nothing to how long the universe has existed. I found this article interesting because I did not know that there were life searchings on Mars.

  • leaho-kut
    3/20/2016 - 02:55 p.m.

    It would be very cool if life lived on mars. I wonder what they would look like? If there was life on mars, would we take them and bring them back to Earth, to exam them?

  • avah117-
    3/20/2016 - 07:52 p.m.

    Paolo Ferri said " Four hundred years is nothing" because he knows something happened in the world that was either biological or geological that caused methane to appear. This event must have been around for more than 400 years.

  • joshm-kut
    3/20/2016 - 09:24 p.m.

    If there is life on mars that would be pretty cool and interesting. I did not know that there is methane on mars. I would be even interested if mars had small organizams.

Take the Quiz Leave a comment
ADVERTISEMENT