The European Space Agency (ESA) announced today support of a new program that will include development of an instrument for testing deep soil samples on Mars in a European mission called ExoMars. A researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara will direct the development of the instrument.
"We are very excited about this," said Luann Becker, research scientist with the Institute of Crustal Studies at UC Santa Barbara. "Its a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity." Testing by the two NASA rovers that are currently operating on Mars has spurred interest in developing different, new, and highly-sensitive instruments to search for present or past life on Mars. The ExoMars rover will contain a drill that can reach soil samples up to two meters under the Martian surface in search of extinct or extant life.
Becker, trained as an oceanographer and geochemist, is deeply involved in the study of the origin, evolution and distribution of life in the universe, a field known as exobiology. She is known for her development of a theory about a mass extinction (much earlier than that of the dinosaurs) and her teams finding of evidence of the impact of a meteor 250 million years ago in an area off the coast of present-day Australia. The impact apparently ushered in a period called the "Great Dying," the largest extinction event in the history of life on Earth, when 90 percent of marine life and 80 percent of life on land became extinct.
Gail Gallessich | EurekAlert!
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