October 21, 2019
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Scientists convinced there is life on other planets but have not found it

 A photo made available by the Spanish Astrobiology Center on 06 August 2019 shows a spacewalk simulation for a future mission to Mars with space suits and robots, in Rio Tinto, Huelva Spain. EFE/EPA/CAB

A photo made available by the Spanish Astrobiology Center on 06 August 2019 shows a spacewalk simulation for a future mission to Mars with space suits and robots, in Rio Tinto, Huelva Spain. EFE/EPA/CAB

By Raúl Casado

Madrid, Aug 6 (efe-epa).- A group of scientists searching for life on other planets are convinced that it exists but have found no evidence of it yet.

More than one hundred researchers have spent more than twenty years studying the origin, presence and influence of life in the Universe and to find life or remains of it in other worlds.

In view of the scientific knowledge that has been accumulated during the last decades, researchers at the Spanish Center of Astrobiology are convinced of the existence of life on other planets but no evidence of it has yet been found.

The CAB, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, is a state-run institute dedicated to astrobiology research, and is part of the National Institute of Aerospace Technology, the Spanish National Research Council and is affiliated with NASA Astrobiology Institute.

Among its milestones were the development of an environmental station on board the rover Curiosity, which has explored Mars in 2012, and a meteorological instrument integrated in the InSight mission, which went to Mars in 2018.

Its researchers, engineers and technicians are preparing some of the instruments that will travel aboard the ExoMars mission that the European Space Agency will launch next year to look for biological evidence on the red planet.

Miguel Mas, CAB director for the past four years, has underlined the interest and significance of exploring Mars, which had similar climatic conditions to those of our planet 3.5 billion years ago when life arose on Earth.

Mas told Efe that, in addition to Mars, the focus of astrobiology is on the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn, since they have all the ingredients for life.

"They are potentially habitable worlds, although very different from Earth," he said.

The search for life outside the Earth has become the main objective of the CAB, the first in the world dedicated to astrobiological research.

It also seeks to answer fundamental questions such as “what is life” and “what do we understand by lifetime?"

To do this, they are seeking to understand the formation and evolution of complex molecules in the Universe, to look for planets outside the Solar System and their possible habitability, to develop instruments that allow the exploration of these planets or to simulate environments that may exist on Mars or Europa.

Mas highlighted the interest in knowing how extremophile organisms, which thrive in physically or geochemically extreme conditions, adapt to their hostile environments.

He said there are organisms that live in areas of the Earth "in which there should be no life in principle," such as Minas de Riotinto in southern Spain, the Atacama desert in Chile or the Arctic.

He added that in recent years more than 200 complex molecules have been found in the interstellar medium, essential for chemistry to develop the key elements of life.

He also pointed out that if life is found it is likely to be “something similar to a cell, a microbe, a unicellular being capable of having a metabolism”.

“We do not expect to find multicellular beings,” he continued.

Mas said that 3,500 million years ago, Mars had deep oceans, liquid water, a temperature above zero and a dense atmosphere.

He added that the conditions were “very similar to those on Earth, and yet life did not arise there.”

He said that the CAB has started to prepare new instrumentation to work on the surface of Mars and try to identify biomolecules that may be remains of ancient life.

Over the next decade researchers will have scientific evidence about the existence of life on the Red Planet, according to Mas.

He added that the CAB is also building instruments that will measure the atmospheres of other solar systems to detect clues of biological activity on other planets, such as methane, carbon dioxide, oxygen or water.

There are places where all the indications point that there are many hopes of finding "if not life, if a very advanced prebiotic chemistry," he said.

Mas said that examples of extremophile organisms which have been discovered on Earth demonstrate "that life always finds a way to adapt". EFE-EPA

rc/rb

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