Mars Science Teams Investigate Ancient Life in Australia

[bright music] [Ken Williford] This,
in a sense, is kind of a Holy
Grail for us. [Mitch Shulte] We’re in the
outback of Australia because this is some of the
oldest convincing evidence for life on Earth, and the Mars 2020 mission
and the ExoMars mission are going to be looking
for signs of life in the ancient past on Mars. And it was a great opportunity to bring the mission teams here
to really see for themselves what we’re talking about when we’re talking about
ancient biosignatures. [Williford] This part of
Western Australia called the Pilbara specifically, it’s really absolutely a Mecca for understanding the
record of life on Earth. This is one of the
most important places on the planet,
geologically speaking. [Ken Farley] Members
of the science team came out here to look at
some of the oldest rocks that are on Earth. These rocks are
anywhere from 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 billion years old. About the same age as the
rocks we’re gonna find on Mars. And what’s very
special about them is they have evidence of
the earliest life on Earth. [Williord] The rocks you see
right in front of me here, these wrinkly layered structures that we call stromatolites, structures like this
actually represent fossilized microbial mats. [Martin Van Kranendonk]
A microbial mat is actually a structure preserved in the rock
made by communities of millions and millions
of microorganisms. [Williford] Basically fossilized
pond scum, in a sense. Microbacteria living in a
shallow water environment, and we believe that if
life ever existed on Mars, it would’ve been
purely microbial. [Van Kranendonk] And those are
left behind in the record, that are very distinct, and so we’ve been
showing the NASA and European Space
Agency scientists the details of what
those textures look like. [Williford] When we
say with Mars 2020 we’re seeking the signs of
ancient life on Mars, this is precisely the
kinds of signs of life that we’ll be seeking. [Teresa Fornaro] I learned
to be a kind of a Martian, to be in a harsh environment. My comfort zone
is the laboratory, but here I can say that
this is the real stuff. It’s not just simulating
stuff in a laboratory. This is a real good
training for us. [Farley] It was really important
to get the science team out here, and
speaking for myself, I’d seen pictures
of rocks like this. And they didn’t
really convince me that they were the
product of life. And when you see them
up close and personal, it really tells a story,
that this was once life. And that’s something
you just can’t get if you don’t go out and
look at rocks like this. [Jim Watzin] You can study it,
you can read about it, but there’s nothing like
the practical experience of trekking around in the desert and really trying
to think about, as we land our
Mars rovers there, and we look at the images
provided by our sensors, how do we interpret that and follow the
clues to try to find the kinda evidence that has been unearthed here in Australia. [Williford] Could Mars ever
have supported life? And then to take the next
step, did Mars ever host life? [Watzin] We’re just smart
enough now about Mars to ask the really
hard questions. [light music]