According to Andrew Marvell, “The grave’s a fine and private place, But none I think do there embrace.”
It’s also a lonely place – and so, as far as we can now tell, the grave and the universe have a lot in common. This is probably why humans have such a desperate need to imagine life existing elsewhere in the universe.
Well, planetary scientists are on the same page, and they keep coming up with evidence that life might, just possibly, have existed on Mars at some time, probably in the distant past. Even if it’s only bacteria. Hey, that may be better than nothing, though bacteria aren’t normally considered especially huggable.
Not too long ago, it came out that at one time – oh, about 4 billion years ago – there may have been somewhere on Mars that was almost Earthlike balmy, and wet as well.
But the very latest research suggests that somewhere was subterranean. (Yes, it’s not quite the applicable term on Mars.)
Today’s cold, dry, and likely lifeless martian surface extends back in martian history past the time when life was taking hold on Earth, according to a new study. But researchers have also found that liquid and likely warm water persisted kilometers below the surface at the same critical time for life. Not exactly Darwin’s “warm little pond” for the beginnings of biology, but it might well have served.
It might have served, if the life there didn’t tend to be claustrophobic.
Discovery of clay minerals on Mars in 2005 indicated the planet once hosted warm, wet conditions. If those conditions existed on the surface for a long era, the planet would have needed a much thicker atmosphere than it has now, to keep the water from evaporating or freezing. Researchers have sought evidence of processes by which such a thick atmosphere may have been lost over time.
This new study supports an alternative hypothesis, that persistent warm water was confined to the subsurface and that many erosional features were carved during brief periods when liquid water was stable at the surface.
That’s not a deal-breaker for the existence of (bacterial) life, since there’s substantial evidence that Earth has a thriving biosphere deep beneath the surface. But still, that seems a lot more like a crypt than a Cozumel.