Airdate: Dec 09, 2008
Scientist: Nathalie Cabrol
KSC SETI - Andes
Searching for life on Mars is expensive and complex, but an expedition to the Andes can be a fruitful alternative.
“You might want to go to places where you have ice on Earth. because Mars is cold. You might want to go high on Earth, because Mars has a thin atmosphere.”
Nathalie Cabrol is a planetary geologist working with NASA and the SETI Institute. Her specialty is Mars, a planet we’ve yet to explore in person. But much can be learned about the red planet by exploring Martian-like environments here on earth. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
“Mars had lots of water in the past, and we saw some evidence that once there were lakes on Mars. And lakes are very, very interesting because they are good places for life to develop. So, what we did to understand how those lakes would be on Mars back in the past, we went to high places on Earth where air is thin, temperature is cold.”
And so Nathalie Cabrol went to the mountain-top lakes of the Andes, where there are high altitudes, thin atmosphere, cold temperatures, and volcanic energy.
“Our hypotheses when we started our project in the Andes were that the environmental conditions, which mean the atmosphere, the cold, the climate, and everything, would be so bad in the Andes that there would be no life at all in those lakes. In fact, when we arrived there, we found that life was abundant, diverse, I would not say thriving, but close to it.”
What could that mean for Mars and other planets? Well, NASA is searching Mars for signs of water and energy sourcestwo known ingredients for life. Recent evidence suggests that in some places, water might exist below the Martian surface.
If you know of any third to sixth graders who are interested in the search for life in outer space, then have them check out kidsciencechallenge.com, a nationwide competition where kids come up with their own ideas for scientists like Nathalie Cabrol to solve.
Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.