Was there ever life on Mars? If there was, it might have been here.

Life on Mars.

Astronomy’s white whale.

Scientists have found yet another clue as to where it may have once existed.

Researchers analyzing images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have uncovered “massive” hydrothermal deposits in the planet’s southern hemisphere, likely remnants of the same volcanic-activity-plus-water cocktail that provided the ingredients for early life on Earth.

“Even if we never find evidence that there’s been life on Mars, this site can tell us about the type of surrounding where life may have begun on Earth, ” Paul Niles of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston announced in a press release marking the discovery.

The deposits are approximately 3.7 billion years old, according to researcher estimates.

Because Earth’s crust is constantly shifting, it’s virtually impossible to determine parts of our planet containing evidence of the early primordial soup party that likely paved the route for the rest of us to evolve.

A visualization of how deep the water most likely was in Mars’ Eridania basin, where the deposits were found. Image via NASA.

Having similar environments to analyse on another, slightly maroon-er planet just down the cosmic road from us could be a boon for researchers, whether or not they ever dig up Martian skeletons( or, far more likely, bacterial fossils ).

Such surroundings contain ideal conditions for “life that doesn’t require a nice ambiance or temperate surface, but just stones, heat and water, ” according to Niles.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter launched in 2005 in an effort to determine if water encompassed Mars’ surface long enough for life to emerge.

Since entering orbit around the planet the following year, the probe has photographed craters full of ice, polar avalanches, and widespread mineral deposits similar to the one simply determined.

Thanks to the orbiter’s continued good health, the search for evidence that life once strolled( swam? slithered? cilia-paddled ?) the red planet goes on — with a new signpost on the trail.

Could a breakthrough be imminent?

Perhaps in…

You never know with Mars.

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