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Space Science

Still More Evidence of Life of Mars 250

Posted by michael
from the wishful-thinking dept.
dirtyhank writes: "According to this article a group of Hungarian scientists have found another potential evidence of life on Mars. Apparently some groups of dark spots spread every martian spring. They say this could be caused by photosynthetic organisms."
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Still More Evidence of Life of Mars

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  • by Ghoser777 (113623)
    So 2 billion years ago, a small class of organisms survived the collapse of Mars' attmosphere. And so many billions of years later a distant (and possibly radically different) relative of that organism still thrives (atleast during the spring). That's pretty cool.

    This is a great scientific find (if these do turn out to be organisms), especially if by studying them we can figure out how they manage to survive at subzero temperatures. Considering we're over do for another ice age, that could come in handy.

    F-bacher
    • According to the article "During harsh Martian winters, when temperatures plummet to minus-328 Fahrenheit, these so-called Mars Surface Organisms are protected by a thick blanket of ice which then melts as the planet's early summer temperatures climb to just above zero.

      Large gray dark dune spots -- with a diameter ranging from 30 feet to several hundred yards -- are left behind.

      These, the Hungarians claim, are dried-out organisms which can reactivate themselves once the colder, icy season sets in again."
    • Actualy i would call this evolution at its worst. In 2 billion years, you'd expect them to -evolve' wouldn't you? Compare it to what happened on this planet in 2 billion years... my god, those martians must be lazy ;-)
      • Educated women are much less likely to reproduce than uneducated women. Assuming that intelligent women are more likely to be educated, we are children of a lesser mind, and thus not really evolving at all.
      • Evolution is not unbounded. An organism can only evolve as much as its environment will allow. This is why there is less 'intelligence' in the water. Water is a relatively unvaried environment. A lack of varied environment leads to less variety in the organism. Look at fish. They're all pretty much the same. Basically. Look at Mammals. VERY different within the Kingdom. What Kingdom has been around longer? The fish. Why aren't they more 'advanced' than mammals? Less variance in environment. More variance means more opportunity for evolutionary advancement through mutations. From what I recall, Mars' environment isn't too varied.

        The temperature varies, but it seldom, if ever, gets above the freezing point of water. (NASA [nasa.gov] says the high is 59 with a low of about -184) Let's not forget that the presence of liquid water is VERY important to life as we know it. Not too many organisms can survive in low water conditions. Note though that there is life everywhere on Earth, even in the ice of the arctic and antartic.

        • Is this similar to the reason why there is a lack of intelligence in America?
        • Water is a relatively unvaried environment.
          Um, no. On this planet, the ocean environment is at least as varied and full of weirdness as the land and the sky, and probably much more so. The deep sea floor is nothing like the surface. The area around geothermal vents is still more different. There are areas with lots of oxygen in the water and areas with almost none. Temperatures range from well below (surface-pressure freshwater) freezing to well above boiling. Somebody who actually knew something about this could go on way longer than I can; I've just seen my partners' scuba-diving videos. :-)
          Look at fish. They're all pretty much the same.
          Again, no. They strike me as a lot more varied than mammals (if perhaps not more varied than all land animals - but then, fish are not all sea life, either).
        • Umm...aren't fish and mammals both part of the Animal kingdom? Wow, now that I look at it, we're both even part of phylum Chordata. I'll leave finding more details as an excercise to the reader, or the next poster.
  • check out the image (Score:5, Informative)

    by matrix0040 (516176) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @07:24PM (#2269191)
    an high resolution view of defrosting dunes in the southern polar region of Mars used in this study is available on discovery.com [discovery.com] here [discovery.com]
  • by dytin (517293)
    If these do actually turn out to be life, then this is one of the largest discoveries that science had ever made. If there is life on Mars, then it is obvious that it is not that difficult to create life, and there is most likely life in other solar systems as well. Maybe it is more complex than this algae-type life is. This is truly amazing.
    • Not necessarily. Maybe life got started on Earth and got carried to Mars by a big meteorite impact stirring up chunks of bacteria-containing rock, which then drifted their way to Mars.

      Or, possibly, things went the other way from Mars to Earth . . .

      Life on Mars would be an amazing find, but if we can show that it most likely came from the same source as Earth it won't say that much about the possibility of life on other solar systems. However, if we can show it evolved independently it would suggest that life will be *really* common wherever you get approximately the right planets in the right climatactic zones (and those climactic zones aren't as precise as some people think).

      • What would be really interesting is (if this is in fact life, and we managed to get a sample), to take a look at it's DNA.

        If it's Earth-like DNA, and we can somehow trace it back to early life forms on earth, then we know there could have been cross-contamination between Mars and Earth.

        Otherwise, if the DNA is unique, we have the greatest scientific discovery until anti-gravity and super light speed space travel.

      • There is absolutely no evidence to support the idea that an advanced, yet mostly isolated culture on Earth, sometime in the past, progressed to the point where they decided to leave the planet.

        Then again, there is nothing to prove that they didn't, either.

        I'm not suggesting this, of course, but I do enjoy thinking about it from time to time. It would explain a number of things.
  • by geckoFeet (139137) <gecko@dustyfeet.com> on Saturday September 08, 2001 @07:30PM (#2269215)
    ... everything looks like a nail. "We cannot find anything else to explain it," said EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGST Tibor Gant. There are actually lots of seasonal changes on Mars that make colors and things - geologists and meteorologists have lots of explanations for them.
    • Ssh! Not so loud... This is their ticket to funding for the 2003 mission.
    • This is obvious proof of ancient astronaughts!

      What we're seeing on Mars can only be the Bathroom Scum of the Gods! Think about it -- how many times have you cleaned the shower/toilet with chemicals that should kill all life, but next week it's back again? This must be the same sort of thing. Maybe the Gods showered after building Stonehenge, the pyramids, etc, but never cleaned up properly? :^)
  • Nutrients (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @07:34PM (#2269227)
    I'm not a biologist, but there is a simple question that nags me : assuming there is life on Mars in the form of bacteria or lychens, where do they find nutrients ?

    My understan7ding is that basic bacteria and other simple lifeforms transform certain chemicals into other chemicals using energy (usually sunlight). On Earth, the process is known to work because other organisms, usually higher in the food chain, degrade the new chemical back into the first kind of chemicals. It is also believed that the whole process was "jump-started" on Earth by incredibly high concentrations of primordial chemicals in the environment, high enough that the first unicellular lifeform would have time to both emerge then spawn other lifeforms to recycle the byproducts of its activity before the primordial chemicals would run out.

    So, the question is, what's the theory with life on Mars ? obviously there has to be more than one lifeform, at least two, so that one degrades what the other produces. Strangely, I never see this issue appear in any life-on-Mars theory. Or do scientists assume a form of life that simply uses energy and consumes what it creates ?

    • Well, considering these organisms thrive when the sun comes out, I'd assume it would be photsynthesis. I have no idea what the organisms are made of, but if they are able to transform sun light into an energy form that they can live on, then they're set. Also, there's a lot of ice around them, along with rocks and soil that could be rich in a material that the organisms like. There are plenty of organisms that live on nasty stuff on earth, so I'm sure organisms on Mars could find something to eat.

      The key is, matter and energy are interchangeable if you know the right processing method.

      F-bacher
    • Re:Nutrients (Score:2, Insightful)

      You are so not a biologist.

      Neither am I but you do not need a chemically balanced life cycle to have life. As a matter of fact oxygen production on earth origionallly was not a balanced chemical process, meaning origionally plants produced oxygen and nothing used that oxygen for almost a billion years!

      Why are you assuming it has to be a balanced process or a complicated life cycle?

      Why can't life on mars be a simple lichen like life form (though lichen is a symbiont on earth) that slowly photosynthisies energy and leeched it trace elements out of rock. If it's a slow process or there is only a small amount of life they can go on doing what they are doing on mars without dispoiling there environment for as long as the sun literally shines.
      • The trees used it when they were burning didn't they? I mean if nothing used the o2 for that long a single bolt of lightening would turn the planet into a flaming cue ball, right ?
        • Trees would have burned up certanly but there were none at the time, there wasn't too much out of the sea apperently and even that began to suffer from the over abundance of O2.
    • Re:Nutrients (Score:4, Insightful)

      by dgroskind (198819) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @08:34PM (#2269382)

      If there was photosynthesis there should be measurable amounts of oxygen. However, the fact [nasa.gov] is that the Martian atmosphere contains about 95.3% carbon dioxide and 2.7% nitrogen, with the remainder a mixture of trace gases.

      Even if the life processes were quite different from those on earth, you would expect a different mix of gasses than this one.

      • Perhaps they process some kind of material with sunlight and produce carbon dioxide? There are a ton of reactions that leave that as a result -- we just don't have them in our plants here.
      • Re:Nutrients (Score:4, Insightful)

        by archen (447353) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @09:02PM (#2269447)
        that would assume that these things would produce a lot of oxygen. Seems to me that if there is life on Mars; it's pretty sparce at best. Besides which Mars has a fairly eliptical orbit - making for a very long and cold winter, which I would guess means that life would probably hybernate for the majority of the martian year. It's possible that the small ammount of oxygen life would make during it's breif season could wind up being absorbed or dissappated the rest of the year.
      • Mars is red from rust, you know, Iron Oxide. And basically the entire surface of Mars is exposed to the air (unlike the watery Earth). The entire planet is an oxygen-absorbant sponge, and the environment is not very hospitable, with that thin atmosphere, short growing season, and limited water supply; the rate of oxygen production would be pretty low.

        In other words, the rules there are different.
    • The answer to your question is here [imdb.com].
    • by yzquxnet (133355) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @08:45PM (#2269401) Homepage
      Based on what we know about life what you say is fairly true. However, it is what we don't know about how life is formed and in what forms it may take that will be clincher in discovering life other than our own. We know that for life to exist in a form that we know it, we need conditions that are similar to what we find on earth. However, there is no evidence to support a conclusive claim that life cannot exist in environments that are dissimilar from where we exist. Life may very well exist on mars, but it may be in a form we have yet to discover. Scientist are always looking for water as signs to point to the possibility for life elsewhere. Maybe there is another ideal chemical combination that may also harvest life.
    • From the article: Further probes, including spectroanalyses, are necessary to prove that the spots contain materials that are capable of photosynthesis.

      While the observations of the changing dark spots and the conditions under the ice suggest the possibility of life, nothing can be said for sure until more tests are conducted.

      This new evidence does raise some intruiging new possibilities, but it's too early to speculate that it may represent primitive Martian life.

      Wondering how "Where is the bathroom?" translates into Martian,

    • Re:Nutrients (Score:2, Interesting)

      by kalyptein (313110)
      I wouldn't say there *has* to be >1 species. One species that gets energy photosynthetically and can recycle its own dead would also work. Dead cells would spill their contents which could then be directly absorbed or gradually be degraded by non-biological processes (seasonal temperature changes, photobreakdown, etc) into something less complex that can be.

      Imagine a scenario where at the end of the martian spring these organisms throw off tough, highly resistant spores. Summer arrives, killing the adult organisms. The rest of the year's worth of abuse degrades them somewhat. Then, next spring the spores germinate and consume the previous generation before themselves producing spores.

      I think there will be more than one species, however. It might just be a variety of species all trying to use the same strategy, or there could be room for several niches in what looks like a very simple ecology from way over here. I think the reason you don't see the number of species debated by scientists is that that would be jumping the gun somewhat. Just proving there is one species is a task not yet accomplished. Imagine you were a martian focusing your telescope on Earth. You can't say much about its life except that there is a lot of monospectral green (chlorophyll) down there. Debating how many kinds of green critters live there, until you can get a closer look, is best left to your martian science fiction writers.

  • by isomeme (177414) <cdberry@gmail.com> on Saturday September 08, 2001 @07:35PM (#2269230) Homepage Journal

    "We cannot find anything else to explain it," said evolutionary biologist Tibor Ganti, a member of the three-man Hungarian team that believes it has discovered life on the red planet.

    "I mean, yes, we considered deposition and stripping of lighter-colored dust in a seasonal cycle related to wind patterns, which is a common phenomenon on Mars. And of course we pondered simple soil darkening due to partial ice melting; I mean, that's obvious, right? And we'd have been silly not to consider UV-catalyzed changes in soil chemistry which would occur in the spring as the UV-opaque ice layer thins or disappears.


    "But," he continued, "Who's going to give us research funding for any of those? Life is our only ticket aboard the ESA 2003 mission. So, in funding terms, we literally couldn't think of anything else."

    • Well (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hobobo (231526)
      Don't be so quick to judge -- in such a short article I wouldn't expect them to go into an indepth discussion, so we really can't know what they did and didn't take into consideration.
      • Fair comment. I think I'm just getting frustrated with one group of researchers after another announcing evidence of life on Mars, with each claim falling through (or at best significantly weakening) on closer inspection. As another thread on this story points out, we're edging into "boy who cried wolf" territory.
    • This post should be modded +10, EXACTLY.
  • They will need to prove that it is not from earth.
    Any life on mars could have been carried up from a earth rock thrown up 65 Million years ago, when we were hit by a large one, or any number of other times.
    • Good point, but it's very unlikely that a rock from Earth could make it all the way to Mars. We find lots of Martian rocks here on Earth because Earth is 'downhill' from Mars (deeper in the Sun's gravitational well). It would take quite a large impact to do it the other way around - I'm not sure even the Dinosaur Killer would have been big enough. Of course, 'very unlikely' isn't the same as 'impossible', but still....
    • Who cares! It means that life outside earth's athmosphere is possible (without the aid of technology). If life can survive and thrive on Mars, who knows how many other life forms are out there!

      -adnans
    • ... or from the probes we've sent there.
  • by norculf (146473)
    I hope they aren't trolls.
    • I hope they aren't trolls.

      *laugh*

      In the spirit of free-as-in-chaos, I have instituted my own private moderation system. Under this system, I hereby give you +1 Funny.

      --MarkusQ

    • If they're trolls, we can always filter on the .mars domain. (And if they have fighting machines and heat rays, maybe they can wipe out ICANN for us. Nobody sneeze please!)
      • by billh (85947)
        I think my upstream provider might already be filtering .mars. I don't get any spam from them right now.

        I'm probably also missing the messages that tell us why they keep shooting down our probes. Anyone have them archived?
  • These brilliant scientists also hope to use their data to answer an age-old question closer to home. In a similar experiment, they'll use the same procedure to try and determine whether there is really life in Nebraska. Asked why, they replied "It is the next logical step. For decades, americans and people elsewhere in the world have wondered whether there is anything there, or if it is just some abysmal pit in the middle of nowhere. We hope to be able to answer that question for everyone." However, the scientific community itself is somewhaat divided over the next endeavor. Dr. James Greely, of the Helsinki Institute of Xenobiology states "Forget the fact that they are wasting precious grant money in an envriroment that has been rather uncommon in the current political enviroment. It's inconcievable that grown men would waste their time seeking life in a place like Nebraska. Of all the unlikely places they might search, this has to top the list, [in] the universe [all] over. They might as well search for intelligent life in the Whitehouse. They've got just as much chance of finding that..." Until they publish their conclusions, though, the world will have to wait. And wonder.
  • by itarget (168249)
    It could just be melting frost or ice under the surface. Who's to say?
  • In the early days of astronomy, there was some rich guy (name escapes me) with a telescope who described 'canals' on Mars and dark blobs bordering them varying as the seasons, which he presumed were vegetation. Later nobody could ever find the dark patches or canals, so it was assumed that it was an optical illusion or something. Now, though no canals, they've found modern varying dark blotches. Another mistake, or has that guy been vindicated?
    • IIRC, the name is Percival Lowell.
    • by RoninM (105723) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @09:04PM (#2269453) Journal
      No, no, no. That's a complete and utter apocryphal tale. The real story goes like this: Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli
      observed canali (that's Italian) on Mars. The word "canali" means either "channels" or "canals." There's an obvious difference: a canal is man-made, a channel need not be. There were no dark blotches. They were lines across Mars.
      An American astronomer named Percival Lowell went well overboard with the canali, stating that they were, in fact canals and inventing an entire Martian ecology. He wasn't some rich guy with a telescope. Lowell predicted the existence of Pluto and founded the observatory where it was later discovered.
      What Giovanni and, to a lesser extent, Lowell observed on Mars is real. They were seeing huge surface features (like Valles Marineris) and the planet's covering of natural channels.

      Lowell popularized the observations by turning them into, basically, science fiction of the worst sort. That's a bad deal, indeed, but some of the canali were there.
      The important lesson in this story--which is highly relevant given this story--is that Occam's Razor exists for a good reason. Go with the simpler explanation (that these are naturally carved channels) until something comes along that says something wierder is true (that aliens are out farming on Mars).
      Simpler: seasonal changes over more complex: alien plant-life.

  • It would appear that these guys went out and saw John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars....

    [for those that haven't seen it, it deals with a microorganism that is awakened by the terraforming being done by humankind to the planet]
  • by SIGFPE (97527) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @08:40PM (#2269393) Homepage
    The Alien
    and the Shepherd Boy
    A Shepherd Boy tended his master's flock of Sheep near a dark forest not far from the village. Soon he found lifeforms in the pasture to be very dull. All he could do to amuse himself was to talk to his dog or play on his shepherd's flute.

    One day as he sat watching the Sheep and the quiet forest, and thinking what he would do should he see a Alien, he thought of a plan to amuse himself.

    His master had told him to call for help should a Alien attack the sheep and the Villagers would come immediately and drive the Alien away. So now, though he had not seen a Wolf, he ran toward the village shouting at the top of his voice, "Alien! Alien!"

    As expected, the Villagers who heard the boy's cry for help dropped their work and ran in great excitement to the pasture. But when they got there they found the Boy doubled over in laughter at the trick he had played on them.

    A few days later the Shepherd Boy again shouted, "Alien! Alien!" Again the Villagers ran to help the boy only to be laughed at again.

    Then one evening as the sun was setting behind the forest and the shadows were creeping out over the pasture, a Wolf really did jump out of the underbrush and leap upon the flock of Sheep.

    In terror the Boy ran toward the village shouting "Alien! Alien! Alien!" But though the Villagers heard the boy's call, they did not stop working and run to help him as they had before. "He cannot fool us again," they said.

    The Alien ate many of the Shepherd Boy's sheep and then escaped back into the dark forest.

    The moral of the story is:

    If you tell people there's life on Mars enough time they'll start giving you cash
    • Did I miss the part where the villagers funded space exploration because the alien ate the sheep?
    • There is another story with another moral. The story is called the search for Life in Mars and is more real and much more tragic. Real because it does not recur to fables, tales and pseudo-scientific BS. It is the story of thousands of people, scientists, engineers, technicians and amateurs who tried to make a real and true search. Tragic because, at least there is already one casualty on it: Professor Wolf Vishniac. This man was the first to think on a true scientific search for alien forms. He invented the first apparatus to achive this goal, the Wolf Trap. By the time of Viking project, it was considered as one of the more reliable to test for the search. However it was removed from the Vikings due to "lack of funds".

      But that's half of the story. After this event, Professor Vishniac was faced with a campaign to devaluate his work and abilities. However, he didn't gave up. To prove that his experiment worked, he went to Antarctida, to a place his opposers considered completely void of any native lifeforms. There he died in weird circumstances. However his collegues managed to recover some of the apparatus he left there. Today this region, the Dry Valleys, are considered to possess indigenous microorganisms due to the work of Professor Vishniac.

      However this didn't demove his opposers from keeping their negative campaign on him. On 1986 a very well professor of exobiology, published a work where Professor Vishniac was not even mentioned as being member of the exobiology team and where his Antarctida expedition was seen as an extravagant attempt to analyse problems on sterilisation of spacecraft... This Professor is known as Norman Horowitz... For those who dont know him, he was one of the opponents to the sterilisation of martian probes and one of the leaders of one of the exobiology experiments that went on the Vikings. The one that seemed to prove that there is no life in Mars...

      The moral of the story is:
      If you try hard then you may prove that Life only exists on Earth...

      If you wanna check up this try to read some of Horowitz works...
  • Trees of Mars? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Louis Savain (65843) on Saturday September 08, 2001 @09:04PM (#2269452) Homepage
    If you think lichen spots are cool, check out the trees [space.com] of Mars.
    • Your sig:

      "Nasty Little Truth About Spacetime Physics" (http://home1.gte.net/res02khr/crackpots/notorious .htm)

      As far as I can tell, this is much hot air to the effect that "time travel is motion through spacetime, which is impossible because it already contains time, so all the physicists talking about time travel are crackpots".

      This seems rather silly, because what physicists actually talk about when they say "time travel" is simply a configuration of an object's world-line (graphed in spacetime) such that the world-line can intersect itself (or that the "future" light-cone from the world-line crosses some "past" part of the world-line, allowing communication, or any of a number of similar scenarios). This does not involve "motion" of the hypothetical fabric of spacetime; it's just a class of paths that objects can take within it.

      Possibly I have misinterpreted the document, but this seems unlikely, as it makes it abundantly clear that time travel involves "motion" of spacetime, which "is impossible".

      Can you clear up this apparent discrepancy?
      • Possibly I have misinterpreted the document, but this seems unlikely, as it makes it abundantly clear that time travel involves "motion" of spacetime, which "is impossible".

        Certainly but you misinterpreted my argument. Why is there no motion in spacetime? Because for something to move in spacetime (or in time) it would need to have a variable temporal coordinate. This is impossible because a changing time coordinate is self-referential: it takes time to change, by definition.

        And it is not simply a matter of not being able to move backward in time. There is no motion at all in time, forward or backward. Therefore there is no time dimension. And if there is no time dimension, there is no time travel either, closed time-like loop notwithstanding.

        • Because for something to move in spacetime (or in time) it would need to have a variable temporal coordinate.

          First of all, to define "time travel," we must define "travel." Most laypeople define "travel" as "motion" relative to a frame of reference of a large rock. Because the spacetime geodesic of an object cannot move, I consider "travel" to be a region along the geodesic where it deviates from being parallel to its local surroundings.

          As the parent described, what SF writers call "time travel" is not motion in time but rather a misnomer for a nearly closed loop in the object's geodesic. Do the equations allow that an object's geodesic may loop around and nearly cross itself, creating an effect that would be perceived as "time travel" under the lay definition of travel?

          • As the parent described, what SF writers call "time travel" is not motion in time but rather a misnomer for a nearly closed loop in the object's geodesic.

            It does not matter. There is no motion along geodesics. I realize that this is taught in many relativity classes but it's a fallacy nonetheless. IOW, geodesics do not exist. It's an abstraction.

            Do the equations allow that an object's geodesic may loop around and nearly cross itself, creating an effect that would be perceived as "time travel" under the lay definition of travel?

            The equations only describe a static (invariant) historical mapping of events. There is no motion at all in spacetime. One can talk about motion in space but not in spacetime. Advanced relativists like Fanchi and Howrwitz (e.g., see the latter's invariant tau formalism) know that worldline time (tau) does not change.

            The idea that one can extrapolate closed time loop from extreme gravitational spacetime curvature is ludicrous. It's even more absurd when people talk about traveling in the loop to a time in the past. Yet, this is what Kip Thorne and Hawking claim is possible.

            Spacetime is an abstract math construct used for making predictions about the motion of a body in space and the internal speed of clocks. It does not represent anything in nature. If it did there would be no motion. Physicists have no idea why the construct appears curved in the presence of mass when they map distance and clock measurements on graph paper. Here is what Dr. Robert Geroch has to say about motion in spacetime in his book "Relativity from A to B (page 20):

            "There is no dynamics within space-time itself: nothing ever moves therein; nothing happens; nothing changes."

            So there you have it. In conclusion, it is fallacy that time changes. tau (worldline time) is invariant regardless of what you think your clock says. Clocks change and from that we obtain time intervals.
            • "The idea that one can extrapolate closed time loop from extreme gravitational spacetime curvature is ludicrous. It's even more absurd when people talk about traveling in the loop to a time in the past. Yet, this is what Kip Thorne and Hawking claim is possible."

              Interesting. One of the most brilliant physists in the world is wrong and you are right. Who would have thunk?
              • One of the most brilliant physists in the world is wrong and you are right.

                You have no argument. You would rather attack the messenger than respond to the message. That's a cowardly tactic. But since you bring it up, there is always the possibility he's not as brilliant as you were led to believe. But what's the point of arguing with a cult follower?
                • Yes I have no argument. It's like this you see.

                  I have never seen pluto. I have never seen a picture of pluto. I have never seen a video of pluto. Yet I believe that pluto exists!. How can that be? Easy. I have read books by people claiming to be scientists and these people say that there is a planet called pluto way off there in outer space. Of course I never actually verified whether these people actually had degrees or whatnot but still they wrote books so it must mean something. I was also told by my teachers that pluto exists. Everybody I know also seems to be of the opinion that pluto exists.
                  It seems awfully scant evidence don't you think? It all boils down to this. Do you believe so and so when they tell you pluto exists? Well for me the answer seems to be Yes. Now if someone came along and said that pluto did not exist wouldn't I have the right to ask them for their qualifications? After all the only thing I have to go on is credibility.

                  The same situation exists here. I don't know too much about pysics (just what I picked up collage) so I have to take the word of other people. Given this dillema do I take the word of you (who I know nothing about) or the word of Stephen Hawkings (who I do know a little bit about, have read one of his books, have seen him on television, and have heard other people talk about him in positive terms). To me it seems like an obvious choice. Chances of you actually being right and him being wrong are pretty damned small.

                  Your inability to decipher this simple state of affairs tells me that perhaps you are not as brilliant as you lead yourself to believe. Your hostile reaction also leads me to believe that you may not be as mentally stable as I originally thought either.

                  Apparently you interpreted my previous post as an attack on you. That one was not meant to be an attack. This one started out not being an attack but alas it seems like it has degenerated into one anyways.
  • Original JPL images (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 08, 2001 @09:15PM (#2269477)
    JPL has Mars Global Surveyor images online, and this particular can be found at http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/mgs/msss/camera/images/du ne_defrost_6_2001/index.html . Also included is a *truly* high resolution image. JPL's image commentary says that the features are defrosting and not life.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 08, 2001 @09:18PM (#2269484)
    Malin Space Science Systems, the guys behind the Mars Orbital Camera, evidentaly have this explanation for it:

    http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/mgs/msss/camera/images/ du ne_defrost_6_2001/index.html

    "As winter gives way to spring in the martian southern hemisphere, the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) is observing the retreat of the south polar frost cap as sunlight falls upon it for the first time in several months. One of the most aesthetically-pleasing aspects of the spring defrosting process is the pattern that is created on the martian sand dune fields.
    Dunes are usually among the first surfaces to begin showing signs of change in late winter when temperatures are just beginning to creep above -125 C (-193 F; 148 K). The pattern of spots on the dunes in the above MOC picture was observed on June 8, 2001. The location of the dune field near 62S, 155W, is shown in the color context view, which was acquired at the same time.

    Dark spots and streaks on defrosting sand dunes were first observed by MOC in the northern hemisphere in 1998. Similar dark-spotted dunes in the southern hemisphere were described at a NASA/Mars Global Surveyor Space Science Update media briefing in 1999. Despite the "sensation" one gets when looking at pictures of spotted, defrosting martian dunes (i.e., the sensation that these images show some form of life, like vegetation, growing on Mars) these features are a normal, common manifestation of the springtime defrosting process on Mars. The ices involved--because of the low temperatures at these locations--are probably both frozen water and carbon dioxide, though it is unclear as to whether one type of ice dominates over the other in controlling the appearance and coalescence of the dark spots. It is known from the first martian year of MOC operations that by summer all of the frost--and thus all of the spots--on the dunes will be gone."
    • What these dodos forget to mention is that first the lower layers of the dunes become dark and then the upper ones. Now anyone in the high latitudes knows that everything happens in the opposite! The Sun first heats up the steepest slopes. The only possible "violation" to this rule on Earth is due to water flowing down the slopes. But in Mars water can only flow in high quantities and mixed with sands or earth! However, what we have here is thin layers of some bright material, probably ice, as, in some other places, dust-devils easily wipe out this stuff...

      So their interpretation doesn't look so solid as it seems...
  • They gotta be green. REALY little green men :)
  • There are all sorts of possibilities. The temp differential in spring could be changing the reflectivity of the soil or something. Not that it ever gets warm--just changes from way below freezing to less way below freezing. The only way we will ever know will be to keep sending unmanned probes over there. (Don't expect manned craft in your lifetimes.) And probably before we ever know for sure, we will have infected Mars with Earthly life, and the question will be unanswerable forever.
    • There are places like NW Hellas that show a "rule of the tumb" for these formations. There, big dust-devils roam all over. And they uncover the small layer of bright material that covers a very dark surface. The "bright" layer is probably very small and uniform, it is either frost or something else, as there are minimal differences in the darkness of these surfaces. Note that dust-devils frequently roam without "seeing" the landscape features. In NW Hellas and some other places, whereever they pass, they leave a dark surface. The general pattern of the region shows hills, cliffs, valleys and boulders. But it is interesting to note that they look very "smoothed" . In time, these paths tend to vanish by getting brighter. However, instead of showing dust covering or anything similar, they seem to vanish in a layered pattern. The paths seem to become brighter from the edges to the center.

      NW Hellas is quite far from the poles. However, these dark tracks are also seen in places with a morphology very similar to the one seen on the hungarian discovery. There are a few frames where one can see dust devils roaming over dunes and leaving similar, but not so contrasting patterns. So this is probably not temperature changes.
  • What would really be cool would be if we found life that was not carbon based. I don't know much about biology but i do know that all of the life on Earth is carbon based. For all of the bio. heads out there, do any of you know what other types of life could theoretically exist? Life with a chrystaline structure? Gascious forms? I really don't know, and while these ideas may sound a little Star Trekish, so does the idea of life on Mars so please do respond.
    • it seems to me that a potential non-carbon base lifeform is sitting right in front of you.

      really, tho... i think that one of the problems with searching for extra-terrestial lifeforms is that we only _look_ for things that _we_ can recognize as life. we look for the life under the rock, behind the rock, but never _in_ the rock (and it would never occur to us (unless we watched a lot of Star Treck ;) ) that the rock itself could be alive.. just imagine all of the things that could be living on our OWN planet that we simply cannot identify as 'alive' because it's so different - basically, unidentifiable because it defies our definitions.

      /zard


  • The dark spots start spreading in the spring, varying from 10 metresfeet)...


    Whats a metresfeet?
  • by joneshenry (9497) on Sunday September 09, 2001 @02:42AM (#2270096)
    Considering the cost of a manned expedition to Mars, there will not be an economic incentive to do so because international treaty [unvienna.org] prohibits in Article II "national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means."

    But we have seen this before in human history, for example, the Ming Dynasty of China and the voyages of the eunuch Zhen He (Cheng Ho) [tripod.com]. China at that time had broken free from Mongol rule, and centuries of progress in engineering, science, arts, and philosophy could justify a Chinese feeling that the Ming Dynasty was the greatest civilization the Earth had ever seen. For seven voyages Zheng He captained a stupendous fleet that explored the coasts all the way to East Africa, trading and exacting tribute. In theory Southeast Asia, the surrounding islands, and the coasts of the Indian Ocean lay at China's feet.

    The problem was that China was the center of civilization. There was no immediate reason to conquer and displace inferiors. What could they offer China? China had no incentive to put skin in the game. And since China's explorations were financed and controlled by the government, once the program lost favor with the leadership, all such exploration could be swiftly terminated.

    Today's space craft sent to other planets or other outer space bodies are our equivalent of the voyages of Zheng He. For a generation the idea of exploring space captured the imagination of a rising and relatively rich civilization. But now the civilization is facing other concerns, concerns closer to home. And the civilization believes that it is the greatest of all time with no competitor on the horizon. The greatest science, the greatest engineering, the greatest arts, the greatest philosophy all permeate the civilization, one which can earnestly ask if it has reached the end of history [booknotes.org].

    And the civilization has a better alternate space program than one that could actually be physically constructed. Through the magic of special effects in television, movies, and games all potential space programs and futures can be experienced by the masses, the ultimate space program of the mind.

    The cycles of history teach us that such a period of self-satisfaction turns into degeneration and finally collapse. After the wise king follows the corrupt sons and grandsons who cannot hold the kingdom together let alone promote expansion. The failure of this generation to take its shot at further manned space exploration means it will be a while until the next window of opportunity opens.

  • Well I posted yesterday a note about this, but, as usual got it rejected. So I will try to reproduce it and give some more detail.

    These aren't news. It's great that Hungarian scientists made lines on the mass media, but, for years, people has been discussing the features and characteristcs of these "dark spots" or "dark dunes" as NASA terms it. They are all over the planet. From the poles to the equator, one can find miriads of this stuff. But there is a big problem with them. While some have features that highly remind dunes, the large majority of them are far from being interpreted as dunes. The problem is that these formations sometimes appear near to brighter and more earthlike dunes. However , while the "bright" dunes possess all characteristics of what we know about dunes, these ones have morphologies that sometimes go far away from the aerodynamical laws that create dunes.

    One of the most scandalous features of the dark dunes is that their morphology frequently suggest that they form completely in the opposite direction of the "bright" dunes. As if wind is blowing 180 degrees opposite. NASA interprets this as if "bright" dunes were supposed to be older petrified ones. Great but there are two problems on this interpretation. First it is frequent to see dark dunes "hidding" behind hills, craters or big "bright" dunes. Second, the general erosive pattern on certain regions shows that the wind is still blowing the way "bright" dunes are formed. However dark dunes are there, and it is frequent to see them behind the most protected areas from windblows.

    Meanwhile "weirdnesses" don't end here. There are many more. The most interesting is that, in some places like NW Hellas, one can see that dust devils uncover a very dark surface, probably a few centimeters underground. No matter, hills, valleys, dunes, boulders and cliffs, the dark devils leave in Hellas always dark paths. These paths are very dark and produce an intrictaed pattern. With time, these paths tend to brighten, however they brighten in a layered form, from the edges to the center. Besides, in some enhanced images, these brightening paths seem to possess a certain form of radiosity, like those we see in thunder rays. However this is hard to confirm for the moment as they appear very near the acceptable limit of resolution. So, for the moment, I would leave this as an interesting feature, not more.

    On what concerns the claims of the hungarian scientists. They are great and they are probably doing a great job. But the problem is that this news passed nearly unnoticed. They didn't make front pages even on the Space sections of certain Internet mass media. In fact this and similar discoveries have been slightly silenced for quite long. An year ago, on a mail exchange with Dr. Van Flandern I have seen a very similar frame, and even then he was already suggesting a biologic possibility for these spots. I should note that many people here may have a very scheptical relation to Dr. Van Flandern. However, he is not the only one and there are other people who have a more conservative mind and still cannot avoid to think about this possibilities.

    Mars is freezing death but one should not consider this as a "proof" that there is no life in Mars. In fact we have some places in Antarctida who also were thought to be completely sterile and still there are organisms that can survive there. And we alwyas thought that 100 degrees Kelvin kills all microbes but some still make a life above it and under pressures that would smash any human being.

    Besides, there are problems with the well known Viking experiments. Some years ago, it was shown that the mass spectrometer could have been broken and Profesor Levin, one of the members of the Viking project and the creator of one of the biologic experiments, noted that palladium carried on the spectrometer instruments, could have destroyed the minimal contents of organics that the mars samples carried. Besides, on Viking Project, there was a situation when one of the members, consciously and deliberately, tried to destroy the work of one of his colleagues. I would suggest everyone to check up the life of Professor Wolf Vishniac, the pioneer of exobiology and the tragic fate of him and his experiment called "Wolf Trap".

    So I consider the question of Life in Mars is still open. Are the dark dunes, living colonies of martians. Probably.
  • Well some people have noted that I wrote quite a lot on this news. Well I have been on this stuff and frankly it hurts the flag to see some people caring too much about apparencies.

    However I forgot to mention one detail. Well dunes, dunes and dunes. However I said that not everywhere we see "dunes". And forgot to mention why. There is a strange morphology on some of these dunes that doesn't go with the classical view of dunes. NASA and Malin say it is due to the physical characteristics of the dark sands. Not so, as no matter the nature of this dark, dunes are highly dependent on the dynamics of windblows. In places where one may find bright and dark dunes together. ne can see that they differ radically. Bright dunes tend to create the "classical" half-moon shape, while dark dunes are frequently seen as small hills with a morphology similar to the form of water drops. But that's not all. In some places, dark dunes create "bridges" among each other. These bridges are very thin. And usually connect the upper/lower edges of the dark dunes and not their extremes as it would be frequent on "usual" sand dunes. But there is something on these dark dunes that is more important than anything else. They overcome sometimes sharp land obstacles. They seem to jump over small but steep cliffs and unite dunes between each other.

    Not all dark dunes look like this. Such dunes I described here are more frequent to be found on lower latitudes near the equator.

    Hope I didn't bother you people too much. But please, forget about the tale that "There is and can't be no Life in Mars". Just leave the question open. Until we get more pragmatic and less political people aiming to find a soution.
  • linked from the article in the story, this story [spacedaily.com] has an excellent perspective on why finding life on mars, even microbial, very primitive life.

    to quote:

    The discovery of extraterrestrial life of any size would likely be one of the most significant events in the history of humanity. Such a finding, particularly if within our own Solar System, would suggest that life is common throughout the universe and that the terrestrial biosphere is not a hopelessly rare phenomenon.


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