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Search for Martian life topic of UA talk

Citizen Staff Writer



The search for life on Mars continues.

The Phoenix Mars Lander mission led by the University of Arizona tasted frozen water in material scooped from the planet’s northern arctic region.

And other discoveries since the Lander’s surface operations ended six months ago have expanded researchers’ understanding of our neighboring planet, said Peter Smith, who led the Phoenix mission.

On Tuesday Smith will discuss efforts to find evidence of life on Mars at a UA Flandrau Science Center science cafe event.

Science cafes are casual forums where people can discuss a topic with UA researchers in a relaxed atmosphere.

“It’s not just about the Phoenix mission; it’s all about the search for life on Mars,” Smith said. “I will try and broaden it out a bit.”

Smith’s presentation begins at 6 p.m. at Cushing Street Bar & Restaurant and will be followed by an informal public discussion on Martian exploration.

“There are a lot of other people studying Mars,” Smith said. “There have been some very interesting developments in the past six months, even since Phoenix.”

UA’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera circling the planet aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter satellite found evidence of sub-surface ice at 43 degrees north latitude – south and closer to the Martian equator than where Phoenix landed, Smith said.

The HiRISE camera photographed white material in five craters caused by meteorite impacts. The white material, believed to be frozen water, disappeared over time as seen in subsequent HiRISE images. Researchers believe the frozen water sublimated, or turned into gas, and disappeared into the atmosphere.

The thick ice layer appears to begin a half meter to a meter below the surface, Smith said.

Earth-based telescopes have discovered high concentrations of methane gas jetting out of regions on the Martian surface, Smith said.

Methane, which is closely linked to biological activity on Earth, could point toward evidence of living material beneath the Martian surface, Smith said.

Smith said researchers are closing in on discovering some form of life on another planet, possibly Mars.

“I don’t know what it’s going to be or where it’s going to be,” he said. “All I’m trying to say is we are hot on the trail of finding life.

“With the intensity of study on this problem I think there will be results within the next decade. It’s a prediction,” Smith said. “We are getting close.”


What: Flandrau Science Center science cafe

Topic: “Journey of the Phoenix”

Presenter: Peter Smith, principal investigator, Phoenix Mars Lander mission

When: 6-7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Cushing Street Bar & Restaurant, 198 W. Cushing St.

Cost: Free, with food and beverages available for purchase

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