For the first time in history, scientists are one of humanity's deepest questions. Are we alone?
But first, they have to decide where to look.
There are three options: I visited the hot spring NASA one time ago. There are Malawi deltas supplied to the crater lake and ancient rock nets hidden in groundwater.
After weeks of dreams and years of research, NASA's top scientists will choose what places to explore as the three-day heated debate takes place last month at a workshop in Los Angeles. The site he chose will be a stage where scientists of many generations will explore the mysteries of our existence.
The Rover is expected to be launched in 2020 and is just the first step in the multi-billion dollar 4-step sample recovery process. To put Mars sculptures in the hands of scientists, you need a lander to get samples. Investigation bringing them home; And then a very safe storage facility to prevent the earth's life from contaminating the igneous rock – and vice versa.
However, the fossils found in the sample can reveal the origin of life on Earth. It can imply that someone else is still out there and waiting to be discovered.
NASA scientist Matt Golombek was in charge of guiding the landing site search. "You are not, I want to know what is in there, I want to know how big we are."
Hunger for knowledge is attracting hundreds of people in recent workshops, such as veteran space explorers and ambitious doctoral students, 18-year college freshmen, and 80-year-old retired accountants to assess what plans are best. For a few days, I was curious and weak in coffee to discuss whether the results of NASA and NASA affects the shape history and what they still do not know.
Much about Mars remains a mystery. The concept of extraterrestrial life is more than an educated guess that confronts wild hopes.
They are hopeful.
On Earth, a microscopic life is inevitable. Biology began almost four billion years ago, and the planet was still being fired by debris left behind in the formation of the solar system. Today, a small, persistent organism springs from the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park and rides through the clouds, frozen in Antarctica, hiding about a mile and a half from the ground.
If it can happen here, why not?
Mars has visited more than 24 satellites and probes, and the desert world we see today is not always the case. The frozen floods of dormant volcanoes and lava show that the planet once has an active interior that causes perceptual activity. Empty channels, canyons and lakes suggest that the water is once superimposed on the surface. This means there is a thicker atmosphere to prevent the water from boiling.
But disaster struck. Most experts say the history has stopped the planet's nuclei from melting down for less than a billion years. This resulted in a decrease in carbon-tinted volcanism and a loss of Mars's magnetic field. Cosmic radiation from the sun and energetic particles removed the Earth's atmosphere and evaporated water from the surface. Hi, Ocean; Too long a lake. Separation of humid soils from volcanic vents – a place of all kinds that life likes.
Mars is now considered a "failed planet", a scary alternative realistic version of the world we live in.
"It's a globally lost planet," Bethany Ehlmann, a Caltech planetary scientist, told the workshop. "So the question is, why and when?" And most importantly, "Did life have a chance to go before that?"
Most scientists say the question can only be answered by bringing igneous rock to Earth. The humans in the top-level lab can analyze the atoms of the sample on an atomic basis, showing a small structure that robots can not see.
Even coarse molecules left by microorganisms can be detected. Knowing that biology arose in two neighboring planets, we can see that life is common throughout the universe. The environment in which Martians are found – hot springs, river deltas, or underground shelters – can tell where life on Earth has occurred.
And the knowledge that the world can bear life and fail can underscore our own unbelievable luck. The continuing presence of Earthlings is not always so sure.
"We have to get a sample and it should be the right sample," says Golombek.
Behind the banquet hall, a researcher turns to the person next to him and smiles, "Are you ready for a fight?"
The option for the mission is a field of hot springs like Yellowstone explored by the Exploration Spirit between 2004 and 2010. Here, next to a rocky outpost called a home plate, now a missing Rover uncovered a strange, fingerlike structure made of silica, minerals related to water and life, but since the rover did not have the tools to detect complex organic compounds The mystery of this structure has not been solved.
Seven years later, Spirit instrument operator Steve Ruff sent a little unknown weather through volcanic journals. Scientists have found another global geyser field with the same structure as on Mars in the Andes. At this site, called El Tatio, microorganisms that like heat generate silica deposits on filaments, mats and spiers.
"This is like all the Mars Mars I've ever had," Ruff said.
However, returning to the site may mean that you are learning less. Many scientists worry. What if Ruff is wrong about the silica structure?
Ruff's only answer is: "If we're right?"
"If one of the drivers on Mars is to answer this question," we are alone, "we find a place to answer that question, and there is no guarantee that we will find it We leave it because I think it's just- "He looked for a term that did not offend any of his colleagues and paused. He finally said "conservatism". "It is not a feature of NASA."
This area near the equator of Mars was explored between 2004 and 2010 by the Rover Spirit.
If the version capable of sending 50 million miles through space is "conservative", you can land on the Jezero Crater. It is most similar to the environment in which ancient fossils were found in the Delta region where sediments of vast basins are preserved and preserved.
"Sedimentary rock tells the history of what happened on the field," said Tim Goudge, a geologist at the University of Texas at Austin. "It is written on the layer and can be read like a book."
Jezero includes clays called scectites, which are known to "accumulate" organic matter as well as minerals associated with life on earth such as carbonates.
However, this area can be a fatal risk to the rover because it is scattered around the dunes.
"They amaze me from Jesus," said Ray Arvidson, a scientist at Washington University in St. Louis. There is no need to reboot on Mars mission.
Caltech scientist Ehlmann spent many years watching the map of the rocks in Northeast Syrtis. This is a unique Mars environment and can be the home of a unique Martian life.
"This will be an opportunity to become a geologist," she said. "I want to see the rock, understand it, and solve the story they say."
This site appeals to many scientists because of the variety of ancient rocks. The debris from an ancient meteorite collision, called "mega breccias," will be one of the oldest rocks extracted from some planetary planets in the solar system. A billion-year-old rock can indicate how Mars has become a world today.
The area also boasts minerals such as carbonates, which once had underground aquifers, a potential haven for organisms that can be protected from the harsh and irregular climate of the planet.
But if the basement creatures are sparse, even the most sophisticated laboratory equipment on the planet may not be able to find them. Scientists are accustomed to finding life in sedimentary rocks such as those found in Jezero.
Emily Lakdawalla, a geologist and chief editor of the Planetary Society, raised questions for every site.
"What if the sample is not returned?" She said. "Can we think about it?"
People stopped for a while considering the possibility. NASA has not yet provided support for three subsequent missions required to return samples.
Golombek took the microphone.
"We decided to set the rules for this conversation," he said. "Everyone does not care whether you are an optimist or a pessimist"
He urged his colleagues to be optimistic for a while.
On the morning of the last day of the workshop, no agreement was reached on the best spot to land on the rover. Some scientists said their minds changed with every announcement. Their opinions sounded like ping-pong when they heard strong evidence from supporters of each site. Others have become more solid in their own right.
But what if they do not have to choose?
The missions project science team came up with an ambitious expansion mission centered on a new landing spot on the edge of northeast Syrtis called "Midway" not far from the edge of Jezero Crater.
It will take hundreds of years on Mars. It will take years of time on Earth. However, Rover can move from one site to another and get the best samples in two places. The crossing carries the rover across steep mountain ridges, crowded rocky terrain and dangerous swept terrain.
"This is a tremendous expedition," said Ken Williford, assistant project scientist for the mission.
Even by Mars standards, Midway was filled with unknowns. Scientists were unable to provide detailed analysis of the rocks involved, and the proposed 15 mile crossing was at the edge of what could be achieved by the rough rover.
There was a way this way could end up a lot, and some were worried.
"But project scientist Ken Farley said," There are many ways to fail. "
"I personally do not want to fail because I am not ambitious enough to make the sample cache scientifically valuable," he added.
Voting remained silent. When the result was projected onto the ballroom screen, the adversary was barely there. Columbia Hills received a relatively low rating. However, Jezero, Northeast Syrtis and Midway were neck, neck and neck.
Eventually, the decision went down to Thomas Zurbuchen.
As NASA's scientific manager, he oversees more than 100 missions to understand the solar system and beyond. But in all of its efforts, Mars has discovered Mars 2020, the place NASA lost the most. The thing that humanity gets most is Mars.
"This is the most dangerous," he said of a $ 2 billion mission. "But suppose everything is done exactly as we wish … I will make history as the landlord who is the decisive official."
A few days before he was scheduled to receive a final briefing on the landing point option, Zurbuchen was not decided yet. He attended a landing site workshop, but there were still many factors to consider, such as engineer safety assessments, the potential of subsequent missions, and the need to balance space biology research with other scientific questions.
When I closed my eyes to dreams, there was a vision that filled my mind – it was not financial but scientific, but pure hope. A probe holding a Mars sample is bouncing back to Earth. Scientists can search the cache and get a glimpse of the sculptures of other planets. A laboratory where rocks are analyzed, a complex tool to find traces of ancient creatures.
And in a science classroom where future grandchildren sit, I read a textbook with the name of the place I chose. Where mankind first learned, we were not always alone.