Robert M. Walker Distinguished Lecture Series
Is there, or was there once, life on Mars? For over a century, this issue has been hotly contested. Unprecedented new observations from the MER Rovers Spirit and Opportunity have documented minerals influenced by surface water early in Martian history. These fluids, however, appear to have had an ephemeral existence on the surface and were salty enough to inhibit even the hardiest terrestrial organisms. Thus, extant life at the modern Martian surface seems unlikely. However, sedimentary rocks on the surface, deposited during the first several hundred million years of Martian history, provide a promising window to search for the preserved remains of ancient Martian life and an appropriately instrumented rover may, in the near future, finally be able to settle the debate over Mars as an abode for life.