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In the news: between Sept. 28 - Oct. 5, 2015

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

 

College of Liberal Arts & Sciences in the media between September 28 - October 5, 2015

Rock samples from Western US teach how to hunt for life on Mars - Phys.org

The search for life beyond Earth is one of the grandest endeavors in the history of humankind—a quest that could transform our understanding of our universe both scientifically and spiritually.

With news coming this week that NASA has confirmed the presence of flowing saltwater on the surface of Mars, the hunt for life on the Red Planet has new momentum.

"One of the many reasons this is exciting is that life as we currently know it requires water," said Alison Olcott-Marshall, assistant professor of geology at the University of Kansas. "So the fact that it's present at Mars means that the most basic and universal requirement for life was fulfilled."

In the journal Astrobiology, Olcott-Marshall recently has published an analysis of Eocene rocks found in the Green River Formation, a lake system extending over parts of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

Marshall and co-author Nicholas A. Cestari, a masters student in her lab, found these Green River rocks have features that visually indicate the presence of life, and they argue that probes to Mars should identify similar indicators on that planet and double-check them through chemical analysis.

"Once something is launched into space, it becomes much harder to do tweaks—not impossible, but much, much harder," Olcott-Marshall said. "Scientists are still debating the results of some of the life-detection experiments that flew to Mars on the Viking Missions in the late '70s, in a large part because of how the experiments were designed. Looking at Earth-based analogs lets us get some of these bumps smoothed out here on Earth, when we can revise, replicate and re-run experiments easily."


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