KEY POINTS

  • A NASA scientist explained how to properly find alien life on Mars
  • Genetic testing should be conducted on live samples from Mars
  • Mars' underground lava tubes most likely contain living organisms

A scientist from NASA explained the proper way of finding evidence of alien life on Mars. One way to do this is by conducting genetic testing on live samples.

Planetary scientist Pascal Lee of the SETI Institute and head of NASA’s Haughton-Mars Project recently hosted an Ask-Me-Anything event on Reddit. Many of the questions he answered were related to the search for alien life on the Red Planet.

According to Lee, alien life is classified as that which does not fit into Earth’s Tree of Life model. For scientists, the Tree of Life is a genetic tree that shows the connections between all living organisms found on Earth.

When it comes to searching for life on Mars, Lee noted that the goal is to ensure that the evidence found on the Red Planet does not belong to the Tree of Life. This means the living organisms found on Mars should not have genetic connections with Earth-based life forms in order to be considered true aliens.

This can be determined by conducting genetic testing on live or recently deceased samples. Unfortunately, Lee noted that this technique wouldn’t work on fossilized samples.

“The only way to establish that life found on Mars is alien would be to do genetics on it and show that it does not belong to Earth's Tree of Life. In order to do genetics on it, we have to find it alive (or dead only very recently; not fossilized),” he explained.

According to Lee, the area on Mars that is most likely hiding alien life is below the planets’ surface. Areas that are shielded from Mars’ harsh surface environment, such as underground lava tubes, most likely have the right conditions to support life.

Lee explained that exploring Mars’ subsurface world is the only way to find live samples that can be subjected to genetic testing.

“Until we explore the interiors of Mars' volcanoes (lava tubes) and/or drill deep into the Martian subsurface, we are unlikely to find any signature of life we can establish as alien, which is the main point of the search to begin with,” he stated. “No amount of fossil finding at the surface of Mars will tell you for sure that you've found alien life.”

Mars Photo Panoramic View From 'Rocknest' Position of Curiosity Mars Rover Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems