Unmanned aircraft to look for life on Mars

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

WASHINGTON - A scientist has proposed the use of an unmanned aircraft to Mars to tap into an unknown area where orbiters would be too far to reach and rovers too short to detect.

Atmospheric scientist Joel Levine believes the aircraft might be able to find signs of life on the red planet.

The airplane, known as the Aerial Regional-Scale Environment Surveyor (ARES), will be able to detect chemical compositions and chemical reactions in the Mars atmosphere. What they are searching for are gases produced by biological activity: gases like methane, ammonia and nitrous oxide.

Because these compounds are short-lived, they need to be discovered more effectively before they are destroyed by the Martian environment.

“We are interested in looking for the fingerprint of life by looking for gases that are only produced by living systems,” Discovery News quoted Levine as saying.

The idea of an airplane scanning the Mars landscape has other advantages-it can dodge rough terrain and withstand winds of up to 100 mph.

If the airplane is approved, it will be launched on a Delta IV rocket and arrive at the Red Planet nine months later. It will transmit data to the spacecraft orbiting above. The spacecraft has a powerful antenna acting as a relay between Mars and Earth. In the event that there’s a communication problem, the airplane could utilize other satellites orbiting the planet.

The time frame to send ARES to Mars depends on when NASA approves the project. Levine thinks it will take between four to five years once authorization is approved for the airplane to explore the skies of Mars. (ANI)

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