Image of the Day: Pulsar in Supernova Remnant Sets Speed Record at 6 Million MPH
"Dark Energy" --Do Distant Supernovas Prove Its Existence? (Holiday Weekend Feature)

"Mars' Moon Phobos May Yield Alien Life" --NASA Experts (Holiday Weekend Feature)




A mission to Mars'moon Phobos could return with alien life, experts at Purdue University have suggested.“A sample from Phobos, which is much easier to reach than the Red Planet itself, would almost surely contain Martian material blasted off from large asteroid impacts,” said Jay Melosh, a distinguished professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences and physics and aerospace engineering at Purdue.

“If life on Mars exists or existed within the last 10 million years, a mission to Phobos could yield our first evidence of life beyond Earth.”

Melosh led a team chosen by NASA’s Planetary Protection Office to evaluate if a sample from Phobos could contain enough recent material from Mars to include viable Martian organisms. The study was commissioned to prepare for the failed 2011 Russian Phobos-Grunt mission, but there is continued international interest in a Phobos mission, he said. It will likely be a recurring topic as NASA reformulates its Mars Exploration Program.

A Phobos mission was discussed at NASA’s Concepts and Approaches for Mars Exploration workshop and a report issued Tuesday stated that the Martian moons are “important destinations that may provide much of the value of human surface exploration at reduced cost and risk.”

Melosh collaborated with Kathleen Howell, the Hsu Lo Professor of Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering, and graduate students Loic Chappaz and Mar Vaquero on the project.

The researchers combined their expertise in impact cratering and orbital mechanics to determine how much material was displaced by particular asteroid impacts and whether individual particles would land on Phobos, the closer of the two Martian moons.

The team concluded that a 200-gram sample scooped from the surface of Phobos could contain, on average, about one-tenth of a milligram of Mars surface material launched in the past 10 million years and 50 billion individual particles from Mars. The same sample could contain as much as 50 milligrams of Mars surface material from the past 3.5 billion years.

“The time frames are important because it is thought that after 10 million years of exposure to the high levels of radiation on Phobos, any biologically active material would be destroyed,” Howell said. “Of course older Martian material would still be rich with information, but there would be much less concern about bringing a viable organism back to Earth and necessary quarantine measures.”

When an asteroid hits the surface of a planet it ejects a cone-shaped spray of surface material, similar to the splash created when someone does a cannonball into a swimming pool. These massive impacts pulverize the surface material and scatter high-speed fragments. The team calculated that the bulk of the fragments from such a blast on Mars would be particles about one-thousandth of a millimeter in diameter, or 100 times smaller than a grain of sand, but similar in size to terrestrial bacteria.

The team followed the possible paths the tiny particles could take as they were hurtled from the planet’s surface through space, examining possible speeds, angles of departure and orbital forces. The team plotted more than 10 million trajectories and evaluated which would intercept Phobos and where they might land on the moon during its eight-hour orbit around Mars.

The probability of a particle landing on Phobos depends primarily on the power of the blast that launched it from the surface, Chappaz said.

“It is estimated that during the past 10 million years there have been at least four large impact events powerful enough to launch material into space, and we focused on several large craters as possible points of origin,” he said. “It turns out that no matter where Phobos is in its orbit, it would have captured material from these powerful impact events.”

After the team submitted its report, scientists identified a large, nearly 60-kilometers-in-diameter crater on Mars. The crater, named Mojave, is estimated to be less than 5 million years old, and its existence suggests that there would be an even greater amount of Martian material on Phobos that could contain viable organisms than estimated, Melosh said.

“It is not outside the realm of possibility that a sample could contain a dormant organism that might wake up when exposed to more favorable conditions on Earth,” he said. “I participated in a study that found that living microbes can survive launch from impacts on rock, and other studies have shown some microscopic organisms can tolerate a lot of cosmic radiation.”

This possibility has been a consideration for some time, and Michael Crichton’s “The Andromeda Strain” brought it to public consciousness in 1969. However the movie scenario of a fatal contamination is unlikely, Melosh said.

“Approximately one ton of Martian material lands on Earth every year, ” he said. “There is a lot more swapping back and forth of material within our solar system than people realize. In fact, we may owe our existence to life on Mars.”

“It’s difficult to believe there hasn’t been life somewhere out there in the vast expanse of space,” Howell said. “The question is if the timeline overlaps with ours enough for us to recognize it. Even if we found no evidence of life in a sample from Phobos, it would not be a definitive answer to the question of whether or not there was life on Mars. There still may have been life that existed too long ago for us to detect it.”

The image below shows the orbits of the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos and the spread of potential particle trajectories from an asteroid impact on Mars.




The Daily Galaxy via

Image credit: Purdue University /courtesy of Loic Chappaz


Maybe any returning sample ought to be studied at the international space station before bringing to earth. That way they can prevent a possible alien viral or bacterial outbreak on the planet. Just a thought.

u watched too many low budget movies...

Theres such a thing as too many low budget movies?

BUT seriously, MarionScott is paranoid ONLY until he is right!

It's just that I honestly believe that man eating hostile aliens (low budget films) are NOT our main threat but rather bacterial and viral infection, presuming of course if life does exist in the universe.

Phobos is a rock - there is 0% chance of life on that thing. Is this a joke?

that picture on the bottom is just a desperate's scientists work on a vagina

No. The Russian Phobos-Grunt mission was decommissioned before it could leave Earth orbit. Phobos is Off Limits because it may well hold all the things mentioned here.

mainstream politics and mainstream science are bedfellows. They don't say things that gets the other in trouble. Phobos holds more potential of discover than you might imagine... so, we won't go there. It's safer that way.

See that makes a lot of sene dude.

I had dinner on Phobos last night. The local flora and fauna tasted great, but the atmosphere was terrible.

Speaking of Russia, lets not forget about the unholy virus that Russia could release upon us by drilling through the ice to get to some water that hasn't seen the light of day for the past couple thousands of years.

Unfortunately you won't find alien life on Phobos. The gravity is so low that escape velocity is 40 miles per hour. It doesn't even have enough gravity to pull itself into a sphere.
Even our own moon doesn't have enough gravity for an atmosphere.
For life to exist anywhere, it is a fundamental rule that you NEED liquid water. And liquid water will simply not survive in a vacuum like that. It would boil away too fast. Phobos is just a desolate little rock orbiting a MUCH more interesting planet. I think that it is possible that microbial life can exist in SOME places on Mars.

This mission was recently officially proposed in print (to be published).

Osiris REx II to Mars - Mars Sample Return from Phobos and Deimos - A Mars Mission Proposal for the NASA - Lunar and Planetary Institute Workshop Meeting - Concepts and Approaches for Mars Exploration.

The general idea is that a LOT of money can be saved with this, as well as a great deal of science returned on a lot of different but intimately related problems.

In my opinion there's no telling what we could find between both Phobos and Mars. We have been making new discoveries about life here on earth that no one thought possible that completely changes the way we can look for life on distant planets and moons for that matter. The link provided above is a discovery from 2010 of a microbe found in a California lake that can survive on arsenic. It still requires small amounts of phosphorus but the fact that it can incorporate arsenic into it's dna is amazing. Who knows what could possibly exist "out there" when we're still making these discoveries right here at home.

Dear commenters indignantly declaring "there is no life on Phobos."

Nobody is proposing that there is existent life on Phobos.

The suggestion is that ejecta from large impacts on Mars has almost certainly reached Phobos, and that such ejecta might contain evidence of past life on Mars - tiny fossils, in other words - should such life ever have existed.

It's effectively a Mars sample return mission, via Phobos and a large asteroid impact.

What PW said.

Reading half the comments on Daily Galaxy, I often wonder if the posters even bother actually reading the article first...

Phobos is not a moon, but an artificial object.
It looks battered, and has designs on it, when we are allowed
to see that side of it. Some of these "scientists" are afraid to say it.
Some of these comments on the Daily Galaxy are by idiots.
Sad to say, Earthlings are not ready for it.

The graphic depicting an impact is a great work and I learned something from it. Remember however that any Mars material on Phobos, itself a captured asteroid, would have had to mechanically "stick" to the surface rather than being drawn in by much of a gravity well since Phobos isn't massive enough to exhibit much gravity. Of course it does have a tiny gravity well which would weakly attract stuff if in the same orbit over time.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)