Are we all Martians? Inside theory linking Earth to red planet

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by CBS News

CBS

Posted on September 2, 2013 at 1:34 PM

(CBS News) A provocative new theory is making the rounds of the scientific community. A researcher at The Westheimer Institute for Science and Technology in Florida says that our earliest ancestors likely came from Mars.

But, as Derrick Pitts, chief astronomer and planetarium director at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute, explained on “CBS This Morning,” we’re “very far away” from proving the theory. He said, “We really now have only a very limited amount of data on this. We have the data that comes from all of the probes that we’ve sent to Mars over the last two decades or so, but we can also look at meteorites here on Earth that have come from Mars, and they help to give us a little window into the chemistry of early Mars, but not enough of a window, so we need to do a lot more to better understand the early history of the environment at Mars.”

So how could life have come to Earth from Mars if the theory is true? Pitts said lifeforms could have caught a ride on a meteorite or asteroid. “Just (like a) hitchhiker,” he said. “It finds better conditions. The micro organisms that might have come from Mars find better conditions to develop here on Earth.”

The theory poses that, in its early history, there were conditions on Mars that were more conducive to the development of ribonucleic acid (RNA) than on Earth. Pitts said these are just suggestions that are being made based on samples of Mars meteorites and data that comes from probes. He added it’s all the beginning of a conversation about what things could have been like.

“For as much material as we have, data that we have, we still have a lot more to prove before we can actually say these were the conditions,” Pitts said. “We’re pretty much certain about what the conditions were like here on Earth, but on Mars we really don’t know very much about that early history yet.”

The idea that life on Earth could come from someplace else is an established concept called panspermia. “That idea has been around for a while,” Pitts said. “But this idea that we can better understand the early chemistry of Mars ... is the one that gives us this idea that perhaps RNA could have developed on Mars earlier than Earth.”

He continued, “We need to do a lot more research to understand what the early conditions were like on Mars. We need to do a lot more also to understand the various kinds of ways in which life could develop. We only really know of one way in which life could develop or we have an idea that many scientists accept—or how life has developed on this planet—but it could have developed differently on another planet, so we have to try to better understand what all those possibilities are first and then apply those to those conditions we think may have been on Mars.”

For more with Pitts, watch his full interview above.

 

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