January 31, 1996
Web posted at: 10:30 p.m. EST
From Correspondent Ann Kellan
(CNN) -- In B movies, life on Mars usually means scary beasts with tentacles and eyes on stalks. But in reality, life on Mars, if it exists, is more likely to be in the form of simple microorganisms. Scientists have a new theory about where those microorganisms might be hiding, and why our space probes from Earth have yet to find evidence of them.
The possibility of life on Mars has intrigued Earthlings for centuries, but so far, space probes have found no hard evidence for it.
Now, a Mars conference in London is hearing about a new theory that could explain that lack of evidence and provide a new scenario for Martian life.
It stems from the discovery on Earth of tiny organisms living deep underground in hydrothermal vents like the geysers at Yellowstone National Park.
"So if life can exist under the ground on Earth, maybe it can exist under the ground on Mars too," says Paul Davies of University of Adelaide.
Davies says that life forms that began on Mars billions of years ago may have taken cover deep below the Martian surface and might even still be living there.
NASA scientists are doubtful that anything is currently alive on Mars but they're not dismissing the whole idea. There's evidence of water and volcanoes on Mars, and that combination means that at some point there were probably hydrothermal vents.
"If on Earth, why not on Mars? And I think we have to go there and look. I think there's a reasonable possibility that we will find something," said NASA's Jack Farmer.
Meanwhile, Paul Davies has an even more unconventional idea. He suggests that if those early Martian life forms were hiding in rocks and those rocks broke away from the Martian surface and became meteorites, they could have wound up on Earth and could even be the source of life here.
"We now have definite evidence that certain meteorites found on Earth originated on Mars. I personally believe that there is that possibility," Davies says.
The next NASA missions to Mars, Pathfinder, is scheduled for launch late this year but won't be able to dig deep enough to search for current or former life below the Martian surface. NASA says such a probe is at least 10 years away.
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