European scientists believe in life on Mars
NOORDWIJK, Netherlands - European Space Agency scientists think that there was and could even still be life on Mars and want a new European mission to the red planet to take samples, a conference heard on Friday.
"Mars is the most Earth-like planet in our solar system," said Agustin Chicarro, ESA Mars Express Project Scientist at the end of a one-week conference during which scientists from around the world discussed ESA's Mars mission findings so far.
The findings on Mars, one year after a European launch started an orbit around the planet, also serve as a stark warning to earthlings -- Mars has no protective ozone layer and the surface is blasted by solar storms and ultraviolet light.
Water vapor destroyed ozone on Mars and a recent increase of water vapor in Earth's stratosphere could be a potential threat to this planet's protective ozone layer that is probably linked to global warming, said scientist Jean-Loup Bertaux.
"Hints of life on Mars are getting stronger," said Vittorio Formisano whose team found methane and formaldehyde on Mars.
He said there was so much methane produced on Mars that there was reason to believe this had an organic origin. "Life is probably the only source that can produce so much methane."
Everett Gibson, from NASA's Johnson Space Center, said he had held a poll among the 250 scientists at the conference.
Asked what kind of life, Gibson said "bacterial."
Jean-Pierre Bibring led a team looking for traces of water. "We found water, but not in the form we envisioned."
There is no evidence of permanent oceans or lakes during the past three billion years and no extended areas with carbonates, and water on Mars today is present as ice.
Gerhard Neukum, of the High Resolution Stereo Camera team, showed several pictures of the "Frozen Sea" near the equator. The area is some 800 by 900 kilometers and the original depth was some 50 meters with ice rafts of up to 30 kilometers in size.
Mars remains a very hostile environment -- a fierce solar wind is blowing away planetary materials and penetrates deep down the dayside atmosphere while during polar night, the atmosphere is minus 130 to minus 143 degrees Celsius. But David Southwood, ESA Director of Science, said Europe should return to Mars and needs to find money for a second mission to probe deeper into its mysteries.