Radar technology and rovers have made it possible for scientists to conduct research and discover organic matter and other discoveries in outer space. This summer, Mars has been in the science news because of recent findings on the atmosphere of the planet and the life span of organic matter. These discoveries raised the question of how Mars could support life and how the technology used in the discoveries can be improved to report more accurate results.
In July, a body of saltwater was discovered on the red planet. The lake has a width of approximately 12.5 miles and currently sits under the southern polar ice caps in Mars. The possible saltwater body has such a high salinity (saltiness) level, it has survived weather beneath 90 degrees Fahrenheit ( 32.2 degrees Celsius). Scientists confirmed that this lake could not have possibly formed from a melting glacier, but instead has always existed as a body of water. The technology used to discover the lake, known as MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding), works as a radar sounder commonly used to look for water. This is not the first time MARSIS has roamed around Mars to explore, with it having found ice sheets on Mars in 2008. However, some drawbacks exist with this technology and scientists have doubts if the finding is actually a lake or instead merely a pile of sludge beneath an ice cap. To remove this doubt and existence of a body of water, a radar technology named SHARAD can determine the authenticity of the discovery. A mirror reflection image would represent a lake on the SHARAD, however sediments and sludge will be shown by a less reflective and bumpy picture.
Not only was a lake discovered this summer, a rover also found organic matter under sediments. The matter has an unknown source, but the organic molecules contain known components such as oxygen, carbon, and carbon. The atmosphere surrounding Mars cannot support organic molecules, therefore more molecules can possibly be found if rovers possess the capability to dig deeper into sedimentary rock. Other examples include the previous results that have indicated varying levels of methane in the atmosphere. In 2013, chlorine and ancient carbon were located in rocks. Scientists hope to find more organic molecules and methane and therefore have decided to release a rover in 2020 to find more items in rocks and underneath the surface.
Since organic matter and a possible body of water have been discovered, many question if Mars can sustain life. The saltwater, while an exciting discovery, has slim possibilities of supporting life according to microbiologist John Priscu. Microbial life cannot live with very salty water and organic matter cannot survive well on the surface due to the very thin atmosphere of Mars. In conclusion, these discoveries are exciting for the science world and show how organic matter and saltwater can survive in different and more extreme atmospheric conditions.