UPLINK 38: LIFE ON MARS?

Is there life on Mars? It’s not just a Bowie lyric, and with three new missions arriving at Mars this month, we’ve never been closer to answering this perennial question. We’ve got two tremendous guests on hand to help us understand why this is such an exciting moment for science.

 

Join us for Uplink 38 on Wednesday 17th February with Planetary Geochemist, Sandra Siljeström, and ESA ExoMars Project Scientist, Jorge Vago. We’ll be discussing all the latest news related to this month’s big Mars missions: last week’s arrival of the UAE Hope orbiter and China’s Tianwen-1 orbiter and lander/rover, and NASA’s Perseverance rover, expected to arrive at Mars for its landing attempt in Jezero crater this Thursday (18th) evening. Join us on Wednesday from 8pm (GMT) / 9pm (CET) / 3pm (EST) here (don’t forget to set a reminder and subscribe).

 

One of the key aims of missions to the Red Planet is to analyse the composition of the martian atmosphere and surface for signs of organic life. Sandra Siljeström works for Sweden’s research institute RISE, and with over a decade of expertise in organic geochemistry, she will be studying the analysis of material excavated from below just below the martian surface by NASA’s Perseverance rover. The rover will also cache samples for retrieval later this decade by a joint NASA-ESA Mars Sample Return programme that will bring them back to Earth for analysis. One of five European members of NASA’s Mars 2020 science team, Sandra is excited to play her part. “It is very important to have Europe taking part in this mission, and keeping the discussions open,” she says. “The road to Mars is like a long-distance run that is best to do together.”

 

Rosalind Franklin

Sandra is also involved with ESA’s ExoMars rover, planned for launch in 2022. Named for Rosalind Franklin after the British chemist whose work in the mid 20th century helped reveal the structure of DNA, the rover will dig up to 2 metres into the martian surface in search of signs of past or even existing life. With just under 30 years at ESA, Jorge is the Project Scientist for ExoMars, working with an international science team engaged in all aspects of the joint ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars programme, including the Trace Gas Orbiter which arrived at Mars in 2016 and the Rosalind Franklin rover.

 

“Determining whether life ever existed, or is still active on Mars today, is one of the outstanding scientific questions of our time,” says Jorge. “The ExoMars programme seeks to address this important scientific goal and to demonstrate in-situ technologies, enabling both the mission’s science goals and the preparation of European participation in future endeavours. My dream for the ExoMars rover mission would be to discover some credible evidence pointing to the past presence of life on early Mars.”

 

Join us on Wednesday at 8pm (GMT) / 9pm (CET) / 3pm (EST) to watch and join in at our YouTube channel. You can also catch past episodes of Uplink and subscribe for news about forthcoming editions.