WG4: Detecting life on other planets and satellites


 - A. Kereszturi (Hungary)_
 - O. Prieto-Balesteros  (Spain): _ 

An obvious target for search for life on another celestial body is our neighbour Mars. Observations indicate that Mars’ Noachian period (4.1 to 3.7 Ga ago) was relatively life-friendly and although the average conditions were probably cold, the potential for liquid water and associated ice melting existed (volcanism, hydrothermal, impact-driven). Present-day Mars is also cold, but strong UV irradiation and hostile chemical conditions inhibit life’s survival, at least on the Martian surface . The goal of the forthcoming EU ExoMars rover mission is to explore an ancient wet environment down to 2 m depth.

The Action will seek to develop an understanding of the geological and chemical contexts, including aqueous processes, for EXOMARS. Specifically it will develop a multi-faceted approach integrating studies of early Earth rocks (ancient weathering, biosignature preservation) and Mars analogue environments (Iceland) with Mars observations, and modelling of the early solar system evolution in order to  define an optimal landing site on Mars.

Other potentially habitable bodies in our solar system are the icy moons of Jupiter. The JUICE (JUpiter ICy moons Explorer) mission will investigate Jupiter and the interior plus surface of its largest moons Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa, all of which likely harbour subsurface oceans. JUICE will study their interior and surface features. The results are important for the whole solar system, as Jupiter played a role in the formation of the terrestrial planets and their volatile budget. Jupiter is also a proxy for giant exoplanets (and their moons).

The Action will bring together  different disciplines, to provide new insights which will be  invaluable in the planning of future European space missions to other planets. The most challenging tasks will be to :

  1. Understand the geological history of water and ice on Mars as well as environmental conditions (temperature, geochemistry) at key sites to evaluate past habitability.
  2. Utilise the above information to identify candidate landing sites for the ExoMars rover.
  3. Perform tests with ExoMars rover’s instruments using analogue materials, collaborate with the instrument teams, prepare cross-instrument observations in European laboratories (e.g. ISAR Mars analogue rock collection in Orléans).
  4. Exploit Mars analogue environments on Earth (e.g Iceland) with a focus on habitability.
  5. Prepare a database of possible chemical and compositional geological targets that may be encountered on the Jovian moons to support the interpretation of mission results.

These tasks require a combination of  expertise from astronomy, geophysics, biology, chemistry and engineering as well as the history of science and philosophy. Indeed, when searching for extra-terrestrial life, we have to establish concrete international ethical guidelines for planetary protection and terraforming. Moreover, and in  order to plan successful manned space missions, we need to know how the human mind reacts in interpreting and encounter unfamiliar extraterrestrial environments.






CSO Approval date: 14/11/2013
Starting date: 15/05/2014
Ending date: 14/05/2018

Action Chair:
Dr. Muriel GARGAUD (FR)

Vice chair:
Prof. Wolf GEPPERT (SE)

STSM Manager:
Prof. Nigel MASON (UK)

Web Manager:



Grant Holder Financial Representative:

Mrs Annick Caperan

Science Officer:
Dr. Mafalda QUINTAS

Administrative Officer:
Ms Ange Marie Ina Uwase



A Trans-Domain Action supported by COST.

COST is supported by the EU Framework Programme Horizon 2020



Involved countries

View the Interactive Map
of Member Countries

Participating Countries
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom

COST International Partner Countries
Canada (UQAM), South Africa (Univ. of Johanesburgh), Russian Federation (Institute of Geology, Petrozavodsk), Australia (University of Sydney), United States of America (University of Hawai)

Specific Organisations
European Space Agency (ESA)

Short Term Scientific Missions (STSMs)

Aiming at fostering collaboration, sharing new techniques, and infrastructure that may not be available in other participants' institutions or laboratories. STSMs are intended especially for young PhD researchers, but they are open to senior researchers as well. View the documents at this link.

 It should be explicitely noted that Master students are not eligible for STSMs which are for PhD students and more experienced researchers.

The life-Origins COST Project

Life-ORIGINS (TD1308) is a Trans Domain European COST Action dedicated to the scientific investigation of the origins and evolution of life on Earth and habitability of other planets.

The Action has specifically excluded the search for intelligent extraterrestrial life in its portfolio. Creationist theorems are also outside the Action’s remit.

Individuals are not allowed to use the name of the Action, its logo or any corporate identity of COST TD1308 in any communication without prior approval of the Management Committee.

All publications referencing the support of the Action should be sent to the appropriate Working Group chair at the time of submission.