Ancient Pilbara rock ‘key’ to finding life on Mars

Shannon BeattiePilbara News
The landscape of the Pilbara could hold the secret to the Curiosity Rover discovering if there is life on Mars.
Camera IconThe landscape of the Pilbara could hold the secret to the Curiosity Rover discovering if there is life on Mars.

Rock formations in the Pilbara which are billions of years old could hold the secret to one of science’s biggest questions — is there life on Mars?

Next year, two missions are being launched to explore the fourth planet from the Sun for signs of life, and those missions are being informed by the Pilbara’s ancient rock.

Australian Centre for Astrobiology director Martin Van Kranendonk said the Pilbara was of great value to the project because it has an area of very well preserved and very ancient rock.

“It’s famous for having some of the oldest forms of life on the planet, we’re talking about 3.5 billion years old, which turns out to be the age of the crust on Mars,” he said.

Scientists will use the record of singlecelled organisms in the Pilbara from billions of years ago to inform where on Mars the 2020 expeditions should look for life. “If you’ve got a whole planet to search for life, you need to know where to look,” Dr Van Kranendonk said.

“So our research in the Pilbara helps us to know where to look for life on Mars based on where there was life on ancient Earth.”

Next month the chief scientists leading the instruments on the two Mars rovers will explore an area to the south of Port Hedland and the west of Marble Bar in an attempt to learn how they would use their instruments to search for life and what type of environment the life is most likely to inhabit.

On August 15 they will present their findings from the Pilbara and discuss all things life on Mars at a public panel at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails