MIT research scientists are planning to check whether we're all Martians, descended from organisms that were carried here aboard meteorites.
It's a plausible theory. In the early days of the solar system, the climates on Mars and the Earth were much more similar than they are now. An estimated one billion tons of rock have traveled from Mars to Earth, blasted loose by asteroid impacts. And microbes have been shown to be capable of surviving such an impact, and probably of such a journey.
The team plans to search for DNA or RNA, and specifically for particular sequences of these molecules that are nearly universal in all forms of terrestrial life, and have proposed an instrument, called the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Genomes (SETG).
The device would take samples of Martian soil and isolate any living microbes or microbial remnants before separating out the genetic material in order to use standard biochemical techniques to analyze their genetic sequences.
"It's a long shot, but if we go to Mars and find life that's related to us, we could have originated on Mars. Or if it started here, it could have been transferred to Mars," ," says research scientist Christopher Carr.
"Either way, we could be related to life on Mars. So we should at least be looking for life on Mars that's related to us."
The researchers estimate that it could take two more years to complete the design and testing of a prototype SETG device. They woiuld have to gain approval for the instrument to be carried on a future mission with a lander or rover equipped with a drill.