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The red planet is far more than just a catalyst for scientific change or an interplanetary base camp. Mars, says Robert Zubrin, founder of The Mars Society, is essentially a Rosetta stone for determining the prevalence and diversity of life in the universe.
Mars once boasted gravity, an athmosphere, and liquid water in great abundance. According to Zubrin, if life is indeed a natural, chemical development wherever liquid water, reasonable temperatures and various minerals occur, then why shouldn't it have appeared on Mars? "If we can go to Mars and find evidence of past life, then we will have proven that the development of life from chemistry is a general phenomenon in the universe," Zubrin said in an interview with Discovery Magazine.
On Mars, as on Earth, methane is extremely unstable because it's continually being broken up by ultraviolet rays from the Sun and chemical reactions with other gases. The average life of a methane molecule on Mars is 400 years, which means the gas must be continually replenished or it will disappear. Something is producing methane on Mars today -the big question is: What? There is potentially a vast biosphere a few meters below Mars' surface, which the Viking mission may not have been able to access since it was only scratching the surface of the uppermost layer of soil.
It's entirely possible that Mars goes through periods of reawakening of its biosphere during spells when a surge of liquid surface water becomes available from heightened volcanic activity that pump vast quantities of greenhouses gases into the atmosphere and dormant cycles when lengthier cold and dry periods prevail as is the case on Mars today.