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Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and the second-smallest planet in the Solar System, being larger than only Mercury. In English, Mars carries the name of the Roman god of war and is often referred to as the « Red Planet ». The latter refers to the effect of the iron oxide prevalent on Mars’s surface, which gives it a reddish appearance (as shown), that is distinctive among the astronomical bodies visible to the naked eye. Mars is a terrestrial planet with a thin atmosphere, with surface features reminiscent of the impact craters of the Moon, and the valleys, deserts and polar ice caps of Earth.
The possibility of life on Mars is a subject of interest in astrobiology due to its proximity and similarities to Earth. To date, no proof of past or present life has been found on Mars. Cumulative evidence suggests that during the ancient Noachian time period, the surface environment of Mars had liquid water and may have been habitable for microorganisms, but habitable conditions do not necessarily indicate life.
Scientific searches for evidence of life began in the 19th century and continue today via telescopic investigations and deployed probes. While early work focused on phenomenology and bordered on fantasy, the modern scientific inquiry has emphasized the search for water, chemical biosignatures in the soil and rocks at the planet’s surface, and biomarker gases in the atmosphere.
Mars is of particular interest for the study of the origins of life because of its similarity to the early Earth. This is especially true since Mars has a cold climate and lacks plate tectonics or continental drift, so it has remained almost unchanged since the end of the Hesperian period. At least two-thirds of Mars’s surface is more than 3.5 billion years old, and Mars may thus hold the best record of the prebiotic conditions leading to life, even if life does not or has never existed there, which might have started developing as early as 4.48 billion years ago.
Extraterrestrial life is hypothetical life that may occur outside Earth and which did not originate on Earth. Such life might range from simple prokaryotes (or comparable life forms) to intelligent beings and even sapient beings, possibly bringing forth civilizations that might be far more advanced than humanity. The Drake equation speculates about the existence of sapient life elsewhere in the universe. The science of extraterrestrial life in all its forms is known as astrobiology.
Since the mid-20th century, active ongoing research has taken place to look for signs of extraterrestrial life. This encompasses a search for current and historic extraterrestrial life, and a narrower search for extraterrestrial intelligent life. Depending on the category of search, methods range from the analysis of telescope and specimen data to radios used to detect and send communication signals.
The concept of extraterrestrial life, and particularly extraterrestrial intelligence, has had a major cultural impact, chiefly in works of science fiction. Over the years, science fiction communicated scientific ideas, imagined a wide range of possibilities, and influenced public interest in and perspectives of extraterrestrial life. One shared space is the debate over the wisdom of attempting communication with extraterrestrial intelligence. Some encourage aggressive methods to try for contact with intelligent extraterrestrial life. Others—citing the tendency of technologically advanced human societies to enslave or wipe out less advanced societies—argue that it may be dangerous to actively call attention to Earth.