This Barren Place on Mars Might Once Have Been Teeming With Life

Possible mud volcanos on Mars 6 photos
Photo: NASA/JPL/UArizona
Utopia Planitia region of MarsUtopia Planitia region of MarsUtopia Planitia region of MarsUtopia Planitia region of MarsUtopia Planitia region of Mars
Even if it doesn’t seem that way, there are more things we don’t know about Mars than things we do know. With all the hardware already on the planet or around it, looking around to uncover its secrets, some people got the wrong idea that we know pretty much all there is to know about the place.
But the reality is we don’t, and most of this so-called knowledge is nothing more than a collection of assumptions, most of them, true, backed by science, but all them of obtained through indirect observation, if it can be called that, meaning by remote operation of robots, telescopes, and orbital cameras.

We’ll be able to study the planet in detail, hands-on, soon enough though, as for the first time ever a mission to return samples of the alien planet to Earth is being put together, and plans are to send it on its way by the end of the decade.

Until that time, we’re left with assumptions. Was there ever an atmosphere on Mars? Probably. Did it have liquid water? Observations sure point to that. Does it have it now? Uncertain. Was there life on Mars? Life as we know it likes water, so…

What you’re seeing here is another cause for speculation. It’s a piece of the Utopia Planitia region, photographed by the HiRISE camera of the Mars Reconnaissance orbiter back in July, from an altitude of 293 km (182 miles).

The area, a once volcanically one, is dotted with craters, but also shows the telltale signs of volcanic activity, which brought onto the surface, from deep underground, “either lava or mud.”

Judging by what we know about mud volcanos here on Earth, meaning how they are the perfect nurseries for microbial life, scientists speculate this might have been the case as well on Mars, in the very distant past.

Like every other place on the planet though, this one too looks absolutely dead now, but intriguing enough to earn its place in our Get to Know Mars coverage.
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Editor's note: Gallery shows Utopia Planitia region of Mars, including images captured by the Chinese Zhurong rover.

About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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