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Exploratour - Life in the Solar System

This is an image of the surface of Mars.
Click on image for full size
NASA

In spite of the fact that Mars has an atmosphere, the environment of Mars seems unfriendly toward life as we know it on earth.

Mars is small, so there is not much gravity. For this reason, much of the atmosphere of Mars has drifted away. The Viking lander, which carried the first experiments designed to detect life on Mars, did not find evidence of even the simplest organic molecule. Unlike Earth, Mars has always lacked the protection from ultraviolet light provided by oxygen. With little atmosphere, and no ozone layer, there is less protection from the ultraviolet radiation of the sun, which is very harmful to life.

With little atmosphere, there is a only a small buffer between the surface and space itself. This means that the temperature above the surface is cold. With little atmosphere, there is only a little pressure, which sophisticated life forms such as humans need to keep blood from boiling. (Remember what happened to the characters of the movie "Total Recall" when they encountered the surface of Mars)!

We know, however, that there are life forms on earth which can survive in very harsh environments. You can leave this tour and read more about these terrestrial life forms by connecting to the Exploratour on Life on Earth, at the bottom of this page. Or you can connect to the section on Mars exploration and read more about the Viking experiments.

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Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

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ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

Look at the bed below the body of the sleeping man. You can still see where he was lying down. The heat from his body warmed up the bed sheets which are now radiating infrared light toward your eyes....more

ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

All warm objects (not just people) release infrared light. Warmer objects give off more infrared light. Very hot objects radiate other types of light as well. Click on the picture to see the infrared...more

ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

What kinds of light can people see? Our eyes can see visible light. When it passes into our eyes different types of visible light create different sensations that we see as colors. ...more

ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

Imagine you found a pair of special glasses that not only gave you telescopic vision but gave you the ability to see all forms of radiant energy. The universe in visible light contains all the familiar...more

ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

This is a volcano on the island of Miyake in Japan. It has erupted, sending hot lava and ash into the air, a total of ten times. The time after one eruption until the next occurred was about twenty years...more

ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

This is a picture of a galaxy in visible light. A galaxy is a large number of stars, some like our sun, some bigger, some smaller and all moving together through space. This galaxy is called Centaurus...more

ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

This is a plant in Gary, Indiana where power is made. We use power to run things like television sets, radios, lights, and microwave ovens. The picture looks very strange because it was taken in infrared....more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA