Is it a new Cold War-esque race after NASA announced it had found water on the surface of the Red Planet?
Obviously, the changes of finding intelligent life on Mars are nil — although many old Hollywood films depicted alien invaders from Mars, we know that the planet is a barren wasteland. At best, we’ll find microbial life. But even that sort of finding would have a massive impact on science, and would perhaps be the greatest discovery in scientific history — proving that life can exist elsewhere under the right conditions.
Mars has long inspired the imagination, ever since American astronomer Percival Lowell claimed to have spotted canals on the surface of Mars back in the 19th century. That proved to be incorrect, but it certainly convinced Lowell that it was possible an advanced civilization was there waiting to be discovered.
Martian invaders have been quite common in fiction in the last century, with HG Wells’ novel War of the Worlds based on that concept. There have been many Hollywood films that have featured little green men from Mars as well.
However, science threw cold water on the idea that there was life on Mars — or at least sentient life. In the 1960s and 1970s, orbiting spacecraft showed that the Red Planet was a barren wasteland, rather than covered in canals as Lowell thought.
But there were some false alarms — Viking 1 collected soil samples that seemed to show a signature of biological life, but those were later disproved. And so, Mars earned a reputation for being a giant desolate rock, no more full of life than our own moon. But then, recent discoveries shifted the focus back to the possibility of life — just not the life we had originally envisioned, but more of a primitive life. In the 1990s and 2000s, data suggested that water once existed on Mars, and further discoveries indicated that it may have once had a thicker atmosphere than Earth and even oceans billions of years ago.
Now with the discovery that water is currently on its surface, perhaps we may be very close of getting the answer to a question that has plagued the scientific community for centuries. And that’s something that scientists are likely to get excited about.