For centuries people have speculated about the possibility of life on Mars due to the planet's proximity and similarity to Earth. Although there has been much speculation, to date there has never been any absolute proof of life existing on Mars. However, cumulative evidence is now building that Mars once was habitable to life or may harbor life forms presently. Serious searches for evidence of life began in the 19th century, and they continue today via telescopic investigations and landed missions. While early work focused on phenomenology and bordered on fantasy, 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 so 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 abiogenesis, even if life does not or has never existed there. It remains an open question whether life currently exists on Mars or has existed there in the past, and fictional Martians have been a recurring feature of popular entertainment of the 20th and 21st centuries. On January 24, 2014, NASA reported that current studies on the planet Mars by the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers will now be searching for evidence of ancient life, including a biosphere based on autotrophic, chemotrophic, and/or chemolithoautotrophic microorganisms, as well as ancient water, including fluvio-lacustrine environments (plains related to ancient rivers or lakes) that may have been habitable. The search for evidence of habitability, taphonomy (related to fossils), and organic carbon on the planet Mars is now a primary NASA objective.