vikingpower writes: The European Space Agency's second mission to Mars, ExoMars, was successfully launched from the Baikonur launch pad today. ExoMars will search for traces of life, either past or present, on the Red Planet, and is the precursor to a more full-fledged mission to Mars in 2018, comprising a rover. It consists of an orbiter and of Schiaparelli, a lander built by European industry and scheduled to land in October this year. Both missions are cooperations between ESA and RosKosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency. If one of them met their ultimate goal -- proving there is or was life on Mars — the excitement here on Earth would be unimaginable. Mark Whittington adds a link to The Guardian's coverage and a bit of detail: The Russian-made launch vehicle lobbed a probe into space, the Trace Gas Orbiter, that will enter orbit around Mars later in 2016 and search for methane in the Red Planet's atmosphere. Methane can have a number of sources, but one of them is the waste product of microbial life. Both the Mars Express orbiter and the Mars Curiosity rover have detected some measure of methane, which could be produced by geological processes as well.
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