We recognize life on Mars when we see it?

Percival Lowell is not The first think he will find life on Mars, but he is one of the last. In the 19th century and the early 20th century, American astronomer published a series of books, to promote his theory, the observable features on the surface of the Red Star manual intelligent species on the verge of extinction. The object of Lowell’s charm—and the wider Astronomical Society of contempt-is the so-called”Martian canals”, he believes the use of the route of the water from the Earth on the polar ice cap.

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NASA has been the robotic exploration of Mars since the mid-60s, because those missions now, we are pretty sure that this planet is not home to any alien engineers. (Sorry,Percy.) However, these spacecraft have not found abundant geological evidence that Mars may once have liquid water on the ground surface, a magnetic field and thick atmosphere, the top of the list of aspects a prerequisite for life as we know it. In other words, there’s still a chance, the basic form of life, once existed on the surface of the Red Planet. And later this month, NASA will take its biggest step toward find out.

July 30, the U.S. Space Agency expects to launch its new Rover, the perseverance, in a one-way journey to Mars. Models of the robot geologist will spend their first year on the planet drilling for core samples in search for signs of ancient life. (Another robot task ten years after will return the samples to Earth.) The Rover will collect at least 20 tubes of soil around its landing site, Jay ze Luo crater, which scientists think is a river Delta of nearly 4 billion years ago. If Mars once hosted life, the stagnant water of the ancient Jie ze Luo the Delta will be the type you expect to find it.

But don’t expect perseverance dredging any bones or shellfish—it is in the hunt for fossilized microorganisms, not mollusks. Even looking for a complete bacteria will be one of amazing luck. “This will be a total dream,”says Tanja Bosak, the experimental geobiologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology a member of 10 people team, which will guide the vehicle sample selection. On the contrary, the car is looking for the potential life of the weak molecules of the traces left by microbes billions of years ago. If the persistent discovery of life on Mars, it will be less like to encounter a stranger in the woods and more of the like found their trail.

When she’s not hunting for ancient life on other planets, Bosak studies of early life on our own, this process she said is similar to what perseverance will be doing on Mars. Tracking ancient microorganisms on Earth, geobiologists looking for the pattern formation, can only have been formed through biological processes. Stromatolites, for example, rocks containing layer Bosak what is called”organic gunk.” These sheets of fossil algae and other original biological shape of the sediments in a unique wavy pattern that is visible to the naked eye.

“With microbes, you never really see only one unit. It is always a macro-social,”says Bosak. “The basic interactions between organic matter and minerals should be the same on Earth and on Mars, so we will use the camera to look at these different types of microbial shape.”

This will be a big problem if you insist that the stromatolites on Mars, but not enough to prove the existence of alien microorganisms. The Rover will also have to find a wealth of Molecular and life generally in the same place. “All cell metabolism,”Bosak. “They bring molecules from the environment and discharge something else.” This may include the basic elements of phosphorus, nitrogen, or more complex organic molecules, such as calcium carbonate. In the best case, the Rover will find fossil traces of lipids or other biological molecules, must be living things. The challenge of perseverance will find these rigid molecules smeared across the mote of Mars dust.

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