Radiation and drilling on Mars

Why is it necessary to dig deep to find signs of life on Mars?

One of the primary purpose of the ExoMars Rover is to look for evidence of life – past or present.

As we’ve seen, robots on Mars will face all sorts of challenges – from landing to surviving extremes of temperature, and getting around – all before it’s taken a single sample!

But taking samples from the surface is unlikely to reveal any great results…

That’s because of water.  Now whilst water is a good thing as it’s often evidence of living organisms, most of the water on Mars is frozen and the ice on the surface has a type of salt in it which is strong enough to kill most types of life.  So there’s no point taking a sample from the top layer of soil if you’re looking for organisms.

So you need to dig down… but if you only dig down a little bit, well, chances are that you’re still not likely to find anything. That’s because of UV radiation from the sun which can kill off living things, especially somewhere like Mars where the atmosphere is thin.

So for any chances of finding signs of life, you need to drill down more than 1.5 metres. The ExoMars Rover will be equipped with a drill that’s able to take samples up to two metres below the surface, where they will have been protected from harsh solar radiation. The samples will be analysed on-board the Rover and the results will be sent to scientists on Earth.

As the ExoMars Rover is designed to be light and agile – it can’t carry very heavy equipment or large drills. That would take too much power to get around.
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Deep Space High: Destination Mars with support from the UK Space Agency.

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