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'Curiosity' Jets Off to Rove the Red Planet in Search of Little Green Men Conditions for Life

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A rocket carrying the SUV-sized rover named Curiosity blasted off to Mars from Cape Canaveral this morning without a hitch.

The rover, expected to land 354 million miles away in 2012, is not on a direct search for Martian life, but it is looking for indirect clues that life COULD have existed on Mars at one point.

"I like to say it's extraterrestrial real estate appraisal," said Pan Conrad, an astrobiologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is managing the project.

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Earlier this week, the New York Times had a story about Curiosity's search for methane on the red planet. The existence of methane could prove that Mars made a home for microbial life — perhaps even the kinds of microbes that could have made a home on earth.

Because Mars is smaller than Earth, it cooled faster, and it probably would have been hospitable for life earlier. That raises the intriguing possibility that pieces of Mars containing microbes were blasted into space by asteroid impacts and later landed on Earth, seeding life here. In other words: we could all be descendants of Martians.

Not to get your expectations up or anything.