PerspectivePlanetary Science

Scratching the surface of martian habitability

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Science  12 Dec 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6215, pp. 1288-1289
DOI: 10.1126/science.1259943

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Summary

Earth and Mars, though formed at the same time from the same materials, look very different today. Early in their histories they evolved through some of the same processes, but at some point their evolutionary paths diverged, sending them in perhaps irrevocably different directions. Knowledge of the factors that contributed to such different outcomes will help to determine how planets become habitable and how common habitable planets may be. The Mars surface environment is harsh today, but in situ measurements of ancient sedimentary rock by Mars Science Laboratory reveal chemical and mineralogical evidence of past conditions that might have been more favorable for life to exist. But chemistry is only part of what is required to make an environment habitable. Physical conditions constrain the chemical reactions that underlie life processes; the chemical and physical characteristics that make planets habitable are thus entangled.