The Martian Chronicler

A graduate student at Brown believes that the Red Planet could have once supported life


For centuries, humanity has wondered: Does life exist outside of our planet? After months of research, Jesse Tarnas, a graduate student at Brown University and lead author of a study published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, thinks we are one step closer to answering that question.

During his study of ancient Mars, Tarnas found that between three and four million years ago the conditions beneath the planet’s surface were very similar to that of Earth. “There was likely a long-lived, habitable environment underground on ancient Mars,” Tarnas explains. On Earth, microorganisms are able to survive if the proper temperature conditions exist and if their ecosystem has the necessary chemical energy available. Tarnas says that Mars checked all of these boxes.

Whether or not this space was inhabited is still unclear. What we do know is that life on another planet was likely possible for a very long time.

This assertion conjures images of alien encounters and family vacations to Martian craters, and it begs the question: Does Tarnas believe the planet could ever support life again? “If this habitable environment still exists today,” Tarnas begins, “it is likely much deeper in the crust than it was four billion years ago. Instead of beginning at one-to-two kilometers’ depth, it would likely begin at eight-to-10 kilometers’ depth. Investigating whether or not there is existing life in this potential habitat would require deep drilling.”

Tarnas says that drilling of this kind would require resources that they currently don’t have. There is still hope, though: “The Mars 2020 rover will look for biosignatures, which is how actual evidence for ancient life on Mars could be uncovered.”

“I think that humans must become an interplanetary species if we are to survive long-term,” adds Tarnas. “The exploration of space, if done collaboratively, can be a great unifying effort for all humans on this planet. The explorative human spirit transcends national borders and languages and exploring the final frontier as a unified species can help bring peace to our planet.”

Although there are still galaxies left to research and years of work ahead of us, Tarnas has helped us feel one step closer towards the stars.