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The Search for Life on Mars?

Last Updated on Sunday, 02 May 2010 15:05
Published on Friday, 25 February 2005 00:00


As far as we know, Mars is the only planet in the Solar System, other than Earth, which may have supported life at some point in its history. What is the likelihood that life ever evolved on the Red Planet and how can we hope to find evidence of such a significant event? These are some of the questions to be tackled by UK scientists at a one day symposium in London organised by the British Interplanetary Society (BIS).

The symposium will be held 09.30 - 17.15 in the BIS HQ at 27/29 South Lambeth Road, London SW8 1SZ on Wednesday 11 November 1998. The programme includes the following presentations:

* Dr. Julian Hiscox (Mariner Space Systems) : The Habitability of Mars. There were many similarities between the environments on the early Earth and early Mars. If life evolved on Earth during this period, what is the possibility that life also took a toehold on Mars?

* Richard Taylor (Probability Research Group) : Life On Mars - A Historical

Our understanding of the Martian environment has changed dramatically as new information has been returned by robotic spacecraft. The significance of these missions, which culminated in the Mariner 9 and Viking projects, will be reviewed.

* Prof. Michael Russell (University of Glasgow) : A Hydrothermal Origin Of Life On Mars?
Recent discoveries show that lifeforms on Earth can obtain energy from many different sources. Did Martian organisms evolve close to hot, hydrothermal vents in an early Martian ocean more than 4 billion years ago?

* Dr. Don Cowan (University College, London) : Life In Extreme Thermal Environments.
The study of organisms which can survive in extremely hot or cold environments can provide pointers as to where to look for such habitats on Mars.

* Dr. David Wynn-Williams (British Antarctic Survey) : Antarctica As A Model For Ancient Mars.
Mars is a cold world which has dried out over billions of years. Analogues of the differing conditions on Mars can be found in Antarctica.

* Dr. Monica Grady (Natural History Museum, London) : The Search For Life In ALH84001.
13 rocks from Mars have been blasted into space by impacts and found their way to Earth as meteorites. Suggestions that one of these, ALH84001, may contain evidence of primitive life continue to divide scientists. Where does the debate currently stand?

* Prof. Howell Edwards (University of Bradford) : Raman Spectroscopy For Exobiological Prospecting.
One technique for finding biological molecules on Mars is Raman spectroscopy. How could this be used on robotic landers sent to search for Martian life?

* Dr. David Fearn (Defence Evaluation Research Agency) : Low Cost Ion Propulsion.
The substantial cost of sending probes to Mars can be reduced by sending smaller spacecraft equipped with innovative, low-cost technology such as ion propulsion.

Notes for Editors.
Two years ago, a team of American scientists announced that they had discovered strong evidence for the existence of primitive life on Mars in meteorite ALH84001. Since then, the Mars Pathfinder has landed on the planet and Mars Global Surveyor has begun to image the surface in unprecedented detail. Furthermore, the detection of at least a dozen planets orbiting distant stars has provided growing evidence that planetary systems are very common in our Galaxy. New generation instruments and space observatories, which may detect small, Earthlike planets suitable for the evolution of life as we know it, are already under development in Europe and the United States.

In order to bring together the necessary expertise to answer outstanding questions about extraterrestrial life, UK scientists from many of the traditional disciplines have recently joined to participate in a revolutionary new scientific endeavour - the study of exobiology or life beyond Earth. The BIS symposium is a follow-up to the first UK Exobiology Workshop which was held in London on 14 September 1998.

A book entitled Life On Mars will be published next spring by the British Interplanetary Society. The eight papers from the above symposium will be included among the 15 chapters in the book.

For further information contact:
Shirley Jones,
Executive Secretary,
British Interplanetary Society,
27/29 South Lambeth Road,
London SW8 1SZ
Tel: +44 (0)171-735-3160
Fax: +44 (0)171-820-1504
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

or refer to the BIS web site at:

Issued by:
Peter Bond, RAS Space Science Advisor
Phone: +44 (0)1483-268672
Fax: +44 (0)1483-274047
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.