When the European Space Agency last week asked scientists to come up with ideas for instruments that can detect life on Mars, it was thinking about life-as-we-know-it. The instruments will be the payload on the agency's ExoMars mission, scheduled for 2009 launch, which will land a rover on the Red Planet. "Its first important goal will be to detect organic molecules on Mars, and to clearly establish their biological origin (or otherwise)," said ExoMars study scientist Jorge Vago.

Mars is believed to possess liquid water. Vago thinks there's a good chance that meteorites from Earth transported our native chemistry to Mars, and maybe even our native bacteria. "We know that conditions for life on early Mars were much more hospitable than they are today. Hence, there is a high probability that 'our life' made a foothold on Mars some billions of years ago. This, however, is an hypothesis which we...

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