Almost every month we see news dispatches from Mars, where the nuclear-powered rover Curiosity finds water-bearing minerals in rocks and other circumstantial clues that the Red Planet could have once supported life.
But in terms of finding direct evidence of past or present Martians, the rover barely scratches the surface, says geochemist Jan Amend of the University of Southern California. Amend spoke at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., on April 5. (You can watch a video of the research presentation here.)
PHOTOS: Curiosity Drills Hole Into Mars Rock
Curiosity's drill can, at best, penetrate a few inches into the crust of Mars rock. Amend's guess is that life has buried itself deep into the Martian crust a half-mile or more beneath the withering orange surface. Even if the ancient streams or lakes on Mars evaporated, there could very likely still be substantial reservoirs of water, in either liquid or frozen form, in the subsurface.
Amend's lab at the University of Southern California studies microbial chemistry in ocean hydrothermal vents. Recently, NASA funded his astrobiology team to do experiments searching for life deep underground as a guide to hunting for extraterrestrial life on neighboring planets and moons.