Best Place to Seek Martian Life Maybe its Moons, Scientists Suggest

Best Place to Seek Martian Life Maybe its Moons, Scientists Suggest

Japanese space agency (JAXA) team members believe that the Martian Moon Phobos’s mission could be a good opportunity to find traces of life on the red planet. The mission’s goal is to return a material sample to Earth by 2029, defeating efforts by other space agencies to return the sample from the Martian surface. Martian material is deposited on its moon – and, arguably, may include indicators of past life. Although each generation of Martian rovers carries more sophisticated testing equipment, they lag far behind Earth-based laboratories.

Martin Gravity creates an obstacle to return to the mission – but the moon Phobos and Demos are so small that it would be easy for a lander to fly again, bringing samples with it. In the journal Science, JAXA scientists Dr. R. Ryuki Hyodo and Professor Tomohiro Usui explained that dust from the planet should be dispersed by an asteroid impact. If Mars had a life – or ever did – the remnants of it should have been found on the way to the moon. 

Materials from Earth have been found on our own satellites, and Phobos is closer to Mars than Earth. Hyodo and Usui wrote, “Throughout the history of Mars, numerous asteroid effects on Mars have produced Martian impact ejecta, and a portion of the emitted matter has been delivered to its moon.” In fact, lower Martian gravity means smaller effects can be launched into space much larger than Earth, and some will eventually be collected by one of the transient moons.

Hyodo and Usui are part of a group that previously estimated that at least 0.1 percent of the soil on the surface of Forbes was originally Martian. Due to Phobo’s small size and low gravity, a spacecraft will be able to easily hop between locations to take multiple samples as opposed to Mars. Also, the variety of effects means the sample will originate from many parts of Mars. 

Therefore, JAXA could find much more representative samples of the diversity of Mars than the larger space agency, which would collect from a small portion of each planet’s surface. The Martian Moon Exploration (MMX) mission will launch in 2024 and return by 2029. NASA / European Space Agency wants to bring a joint mission sample Perseverance is now collecting on Earth around 2031, when a Chinese Martian sample is planned to return in 2030.