Sure, imagining a police force on Mars is jumping the gun a little, but if someday there were enough colonizers living on the red planet to actually have a murder mystery, how would you find the killer? We have protocols and procedures here on Earth that would have to be adapted to a very different environment. Christyann Darwent has studied archaeology in the Arctic, and was game to explain the challenges of extraterrestrial forensics.
Consider the basic science of crime-scene analysis. In the dry, freezer-like air and extreme solar exposure of Mars, DNA will age differently than it does on Earth. Blood from blunt-trauma and stab wounds will produce dramatically new spatter patterns in the planet’s low gravity. Electrostatic charge will give a new kind of evidentiary value to dust found clinging to the exteriors of space suits and nearby surfaces. Even radiocarbon dating will be different on Mars, Darwent reminded me, due to the planet’s atmospheric chemistry, making it difficult to date older crime scenes.
The Martian environment itself is also already so lethal that even a violent murder could be disguised as a natural act. Darwent suggested that a would-be murderer on the Red Planet could use the environment’s ambient lethality to her advantage. A fatal poisoning could be staged to seem as if the victim simply died of exposure to abrasive chemicals, known as perchlorates, in the Martian rocks. A weak seal on a space suit, or an oxygen meter that appears to have failed but was actually tampered with, could really be a clever homicide hiding in plain sight.
We've all seen that movie, but it's just the beginning. Other experts contributed their knowledge of government, technology, international law, politics, and human nature, in addition to what we know about Mars itself, to the thought experiment of a Mars murder mystery. Read what they have to say at the Atlantic.
(Image credit: Matt Chinworth)