Russia and Europe are about to begin their journey to Mars next week with a mission intended to investigate the red planet's atmosphere and search for signs of life. The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) is planned to lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard a Proton rocket on 14 March. Hopes are high the probe will find 'very strong evidence' of alien life when it reaches to Red Planet on 19 October.
ExoMars is a combined effort between the European Space Agency (ESA) and Russia's Roscosmos space agency, containing two craft - the TGO and the Schiaparelli landing demonstrator. If everything goes according to plan, TGO will make a comprehensive inventory of Mars' atmospheric gases, with specific interest in rare gases such as methane. Methane could offer one of the major clues to whether life exists on Mars.
On Earth, the main cause of methane is bacteria. Billions of flatulent microbes, counting many that flourish in the guts of animals for instance cattle and termites, belch out the gas. But methane can also be produced by volcanic activity and geological chemistry.
The Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) has highly-sensitive tools for sensing minute traces of methane and other atmospheric gases.
The Trace Gas Orbiter
It will search for methane 'hotspots' over the Martian surface, and, significantly, check whether the gas is likely to be the product of geology or biology.
Concentrations of methane have been detected back in 2003 and 2006 in three exact areas of Mars: Terra Sabae, Nili Fossae and Syrtis Major, and data propose that water once streamed over these areas.
If carbon-12 alongside methane is detected, it 'would be very thrilling because it is very solid evidence that something organic has produced carbon-12.
ExoMars mission will transport a European rover and a Russian surface platform to the Marian Surface.
The ExoMars rover will travel over the surface of Mars to look for signs of life by gathering samples with a drill and analyzing them with 'next-generation tools'.
ExoMars will be the first ever mission to chain the capability to move across the Martian surface and to also study Mars at depth.