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Space Science

NASA Says Mars Once "Drenched With Water" 1048

Posted by michael
from the nice-day-for-a-swim dept.
NASA is currently holding a press conference (carried live on NASA TV) where they are discussing findings from the Mars rovers. They are saying that the crater that the second rover has landed in has convincing evidence that it was once drenched or covered in liquid water. They cite the tiny spherules, odd holes in the rocks, sulfur in the spectrometric analyses, and evidence of an iron sulfate hydrate (a hydrate is a chemical compound which includes water molecules in the crystal lattice). Update: 03/02 19:45 GMT by M : CNN has a story, or see the NASA press release.
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NASA Says Mars Once "Drenched With Water"

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  • Key point (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mukaikubo (724906) <gtg430b&prism,gatech,edu> on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @03:14PM (#8443226) Journal
    If these rocks are sedimentary, then, as Squyres said, that has to be our main target for a sample return mission. Because sedimentary rocks are going to have fossils.
  • Not very surprising (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Z00L00K (682162) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @03:15PM (#8443244) Homepage
    That there once has been water on Mars, considering that a lot of comets contains water.
  • Where did it go? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gid13 (620803) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @03:17PM (#8443292)
    Maybe I'm just an idiot, but where does the water go? Vapour in the atmosphere? Did the hydrogen and oxygen break apart somehow? Chemical reactions with something else? Did it just float off into space? Those all seem unlikely to me, but then, what do I know?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @03:19PM (#8443352)
    Religion is all about taking advantage of the parts of our brains that are hard-wired to rationalize anything that might lend meaning to our lives.

    If I already believe that daily events on planet Earth are influenced by a 2,000-year-old dead guy, it'll take more than a few microscopic bacteria on Mars to make me reconsider my stance.
  • by 7-Vodka (195504) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @03:21PM (#8443400) Journal
    their offer reads "Evidence of Ocean Water on Mars; If Found by Feb. 29, America Gets Free Giant Shrimp on March 15"

    Well, the news may not have been announced by feb 29, but the evidence may have been found by feb 29.

  • by Danathar (267989) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @03:23PM (#8443420) Journal
    Interesting...That means we could possibly come back with a another rover that not only could look for life, but could possibly "repair/rejuvinate" the current rover by 'sweeping" the dust off of the solar panels? I would imagine just leaving the rover would be interesting to engineers and scientists to see what happens to a man made object that sits out in the open for extended periods of time....good information if you want to build stuff on Mars.

    Anybody out there like to comment? Is it a possibility? Could we come back with another rover and get Opportunity working again after it runs out of juice?
  • New info (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DarkHand (608301) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @03:24PM (#8443447)
    The conference is going on now and theres new news: Not only was there a large amount of water, there's good evidence that it was salty.
  • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ironix (165274) <`ac.nergron' `ta' `neffets'> on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @03:25PM (#8443460) Homepage
    Actually that is not entirely true...

    St. Augustine, back in the day, posited that if there are other planets with life on them, Jesus would have had to visit them all in order to "save" them.

    If Jesus did in fact do this, it would remove the uniqueness of Jesus. Since the bible states that Jesus' is unique, this could not have happened.

    Thus he surmised that there is no life on other planets.

  • Re:gun jumping (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Andorion (526481) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @03:25PM (#8443470)
    Why is this surprising? This way, we can discuss it while watching the broadcast...

    ~Berj
  • Re:Where did it go? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @03:29PM (#8443529)
    The water got baked away by the Sun. Mars has virtually no atmosphere. The atmosphere is gone because the molten core solidified. When the core solidifies, it the magnetic field disappears and the atmosphere gets blown away by the Sun. Since the Earth's core is still molten, we are able to protect our atmosphere from the Sun.
  • by jaaron (551839) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @03:29PM (#8443533) Homepage
    How can any religion survive that revelation?

    Some can quite well actually. But I'll get to that in a second.

    First off, we need to make the distinction between "theology" and "belief." A particular theology may not survive this sort of revealation, but in most cases that just means it will adapt. Most major religions of today have gone through huge adjustments and adaptions. This will just simply be another one.

    Secondly, beliefs die hard. The fact that one's religious belief is based on faith and not evidence means that in most case no amount of evidence is going to shake a strong belief, especially if one is determined to hold it no matter what. So if this is the "end" of someone's faith, well, such an individual was bound to drop that faith at some point anyway.

    Finally, there are many religions in the world in which this sort of discovery will not contridict their core theology and beliefs at all. In fact, to some, it may validate it. So don't be so quick to announce the end of religion. It has survived much and will continue to do so.
  • Re:Where did it go? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by John M Ford (653329) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @03:31PM (#8443560)
    If the rms (root mean square) of a gas is 10-20% greater than the escape velocity of a planet it will bleed off into space.

    I don't know what the rms of water vapor is at Martian conditions, but I do know that the escape velocity is a bit lower than Earth's.

    Would that mean that the concept of terraforming would be infeasible on Mars?

    John
  • by throbbingbrain.com (443482) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @03:31PM (#8443575)
    Funny, but nowhere near as cool as when Taco Bell [tacobell.com] planted the Mir target [spaceref.com] in the south pacific.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @03:32PM (#8443592)
    all of that applies to humans and animals on Earth.

    In a different environment, it's likely that other methods would be more successful.

    For example, there are microbes that live happily in the superheated water in volcanic vents on Earth.

    The likelyhood of two legged animals walking around on mars is really zero. _Maybe_ there were some spores or microbes there, but anything beyond that would be shocking, and unexpected.
  • First Life (Score:4, Interesting)

    by canineK9 (688795) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @03:36PM (#8443645)
    Archeabacteria are closely related to the oldest life on earth. Many are thermophilic, acid tolerant, anaerobic, sulphur-loving microbes. Just the sort that would be happy in the acidic hot springs hypothesized on ancient Mars. And they go dormant when the conditions are not just right so the ride to Earth on some rock fragments splashed out by a meteor impact would have been in suspended animation. People who can't grasp the Out of Africa concept are really gonna have trouble with Out of Mars.
  • Dune (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Ann Coulter (614889) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @03:37PM (#8443659) Journal
    Wasn't Dune (Arrakis), and the Sahara desert, once drenched with water? In Dune, the Worms were the cause of its climatic change while I forgot what happened to the Sahara (was it new mountain ranges forming in the north). I think that a lot of places on earth changed from forests to deserts because the mountain ranges blocked the flow of rainclouds inland. I doubt that Mars was dried because of mountain ranges so I have no idea what I am talking about here :p
  • by visgoth (613861) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @03:38PM (#8443669)
    The next rover should drop solar panels in favor of a much more robust power source. I recommend somthing based on harnessing the heat of decaying heavy elements*.

    *Nuclear power (oooh the scary word!)

  • by JahToasted (517101) <toastafariNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @03:39PM (#8443685) Homepage
    If it were as simple as just sweeping off the dust from the solar panels, wouldn't they have jsut built the rovers with a little robotic arm and a broom so they could clean themselves off?
  • RIP hubble (Score:4, Interesting)

    by parcel (145162) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @03:43PM (#8443728)
    The downside being, if there was any chance of saving hubble [npr.org] before, it's gone now. I heard the story on NPR a few days ago... something like $200 million in parts are built and ready to go, just waiting on a shuttle mission that would extend hubble's lifespan beyond 2006. "safety concerns" were cited as the cause, but reduced budgeting due to mars' popularity is a far more likely reason. (listen to the audio stream [npr.org] of the program)

    *sigh* The bell tolls for yet another victim of society's apathy.

  • by b-baggins (610215) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @03:43PM (#8443735) Journal
    Considering the difficulty evolution has in explaining the origins of life, finding life on Mars would not boost evolution as much you'd like to think.

    Even Dawkins admits that selection can't work until the right proteins are in place and can replicate. In his book the Blind Watchmaker, he basically admits that abiognesis is required involving some VERY unlikely chemical combinations, before evolution can get started and then, in my opinion, offers a huge copout by basically saying: Well, with so many planets in the universe, the odds of it happening at least once may not be so improbable.

    The odds of it happening twice in the same solar system strain credibility.

    I suspect the explanation will be that life on Earth actually started on Mars.
  • Re:WTF? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by painandgreed (692585) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @03:44PM (#8443748)

    St. Augustine, back in the day, posited that if there are other planets with life on them, Jesus would have had to visit them all in order to "save" them. If Jesus did in fact do this, it would remove the uniqueness of Jesus. Since the bible states that Jesus' is unique, this could not have happened. Thus he surmised that there is no life on other planets.

    Well, you could say the same thing for different continents. Jesus didn't have to visit all the continents to save everybody. The word of God was carried there at a later date by evangelists. Sam thing could be said for other planets with life.

    Perhaps Jesus was on all these places, and then I'm sure that angels will come down and reveal themselves and the truth just as they did with the Mormons and Jesus' history in the new world.

  • Is this news??? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ektanoor (9949) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @03:44PM (#8443749) Journal
    Frankly I'm disappointed. Until now they roam around and claim that the findings are not wholly conclusive:

    "The images obtained to date are not adequate for a definitive answer. So scientists plan to maneuver Opportunity closer to the features for a better look. "We have tantalizing clues, and we're planning to evaluate this possibility in the near future," Grotzinger said.

    Besides hydrated minerals were already hinted by Spirit. One of the very first press releases pointed to that fact. Besides this is not the only weird thing between Opportunity and Spirit outputs. If one compares the first wave from results from Spirit with Opportunity's then it seems that the second robot is clearly giving very thiny results. Until now I could not see broadscale spectral and infrared analysis like the ones Spirit did. Maybe I'm missing something but frankly it seems that data feed from Meridiani goes a long way from it could.

    PS: To those who are discussing theologies... Frankly don't get you people. Try to find a super SF author by the name of Nicolau Cusanus and his bestseller "De docta ignorantia". He already discussed a lot of what you keep rumbling till now...
  • Re:Key point (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Madcapjack (635982) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @03:46PM (#8443786)
    >Very true. If there was life in this 'ocean', then >it's very likely fossils are in sedimentary rocks >in that region. If there are no fossils? Absence of >evidence is not evidence of absence, but it'll be a >really curious coincidence.

    I'm not sure how much of a fossil bacteria-like creatures would leave behind. There might have been life, but still be no discernible fossils (even assuming that fossils would have been preserved). Chemical signature would be more likely method of identification. Then again, we might find fossils and not even recognize them! Life need not be organic. For example, A.G. Cairns-Smith's book "Genetic Takeover and the mineral origins of life" argues that the first forms of life on earth were colloidal clay organisms without organic chemistry. If Cairns-Smith is correct, then perhaps we should be looking for something like that on Mars instead.

  • Re:Key point (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Paulrothrock (685079) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @03:47PM (#8443796) Homepage Journal
    Which is exactly why we should send a manned mission with a microbiologist or two who can spend a year and a half looking at various types of sediment for hundreds of kilometers.

    NASA has never lost a human in space, so sending them on a 1.5 year mission is actually safer than throwing them to orbit.
  • God: Well, it took a few billion years to... oh, never mind, let's call it "seven days".

    The opening story in Gensis resembles a Pharaonic Drama [christdot.org]. It is more poetic than literal. People sometimes need to look beyond the words written on the page...funny how my fellow members of a religion, where the founder was dissatisfied with how the current religious leaders had lost sight of the meaning of the words and instead focused on strict literal adherence to the law, are hell bent on making people accept a little story written a very long time ago in a very different time literally.

  • by Kenja (541830) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @03:50PM (#8443839)
    Read the web page. Its not fish but rather critters without scales and fins.

    Leviticus 11:9-12 says:
    9 These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat.
    10 And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you:
    11 They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcases in abomination.
    12 Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.

    Deuteronomy 14:9-11 says:
    9 These ye shall eat of all that are in the waters: all that have fins and scales shall ye eat:
    10 And whatsoever hath not fins and scales ye may not eat; it is unclean unto you.
    11 Of all clean birds ye shall eat.

  • by i.r.id10t (595143) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @03:53PM (#8443876)
    Except many of the rules for determining what is Kosher and what isn't are actually being proven as scientifically/dietaryily (word?) sound... Pork has/had the massive problem of trichinosis (sp?), shellfish cause problems for people allergic to iodine, mixing meat and milk - the various digestive enzymes cancel eachother out, etc. Of course, still no explanation of why you need 4 sets of dishes, silverware, etc. but that's where the religion part comes back in.
  • Re:Key point (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tigersha (151319) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @03:58PM (#8443938) Homepage
    Purely out of interest, what are the chances (in percentage) that the average sample of, say 1 kg of earth based sedinmentary rock would have fossils in it?
  • Re:Key point (Score:5, Interesting)

    by avgjoe62 (558860) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @03:58PM (#8443945)
    We're still working on Earth.

    Actually, according to this Penatgon report [yahoo.com] we've already finished here...

  • by jfengel (409917) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @03:59PM (#8443957) Homepage Journal
    The odds of it happening twice in the same solar system strain credibility.

    I wouldn't go that far. The odds on the particular reactions occuring at any given time are low, but we're talking about extraordinary time scales: hundreds of millions or billions of years. Even very unlikely things happen several times during a period that long.

    The trick with life processes is that once it happens, it tends to replicate, so it "sticks". Once you have life, it's really, really hard to get rid of it entirely. That's one unique feature of life that makes it distinct from non-living processes. (The other is change, the key element of evolution and distinct from, say, growing crystals, but the exact defintion of life isn't the purpose here.)

    None of this comprises proof, of course. Working out the exact odds involves way too many assumptions for me (or anybody else) to be specific. But it does not, to me, strain credibility that somewhere in the hundred-million-year history of "wet Mars", the reactions that kick off life to have started.

    Nor does it conclusively rule out intelligent creation or many of the other competing theories. But the discovery of some sort of life on Mars would tend to suggest that evolutionary theory has good explanatory power, which is all you can ask of a theory.
  • by Hiroto. S (631919) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @04:05PM (#8444023) Journal
    They are all talking about the outcrop, but what happened to the mud:

    Other images show the rover tracks clearly are being made in "mud", with water being pressed out of that material, Levin said. "That water promptly freezes and you can see reflecting ice. That's clearly ice. It could be nothing else," he said, "and the source is the water that came out of the mud." [space.com]

    Why they are all talking about the water of the past and not about the "mud" which is more exciting news about the "current" water. Also why nobody asking the question regarding this?

  • by spoonboy42 (146048) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @04:09PM (#8444074)

    Not all religions consider man to be centrally important in the universe (in fact some, like Taoism and some forms of neo-Paganism, stress man's existence as a nondistinct part of the cohesive whole of nature). Furthermore, many practitioners of religions which do assign a special value to humanness or sentience understand that such value is entirely spiritual and not to be confused with any external physical value. Even members of western religions which feature an active creator God (Christianity, Judiasm, Islam, etc.) are often open to the possibility of even intelligent extraterrestrial life, as they see such beings as also being God's children. Theories as to the religious inclinations of such extraterrestrial beings abound (I heard from a Berkeley astronomer working on extrasolar planets that he had recieved a letter from the Vatican asking if he had any inkling as to the hypothetical religious beliefs of hypothetical aliens. He replied that his data was as yet insufficient for a meaningful answer). Even assuming that intelligent extraterrestrials do not possess practices akin to human religion, I'm sure some members of "missionary" faiths (i.e. some sects of Christianity, Islam, and Mahayana Bhuddism) might believe that such beings would need to be exposed to the tenets of their religion and possibly converted. Less aggressive religious persons might find very interesting insights in the philosophical ideas of an alien race, even as people today can learn a great deal from other religions and cultures.

    You need to remember that religion and science need not be antagonistic. I, for one, am a scientist and also a man of faith. I do not believe in the literal truth of any religious text, but I do believe that many different faiths around the world contain spiritual truth or "divine inspiration" if you will. I personally was raised in a (mainstream protestant) Christian environment and today choose to worship as a (Quaker) Christian, but I do not, by any means, believe that my religion has a monopoly on the truth.

    I also believe that science is another powerful source for truth, and a unique one in that its claims can be tested, measured, and verified (unlike religion). Science has in the past disproven the very literal-minded interpretations of religious conservatives with regard to cosmology and biology, and it will likely continue to do so in the future. Keep in mind, however, that there are those of us who hold religious beliefs and also believe in the veracity of Evolution, the Big Bang theory, and even consider the prospect of extraterrestrial life likely. I recognize that science does not offer proof of my belief in a diety, or in a moral purpose for intelligent life, but I also know that science does not disprove these beliefs. I accept that, going on empirical evidence, Atheism is just as valid and just as likely a belief system as my own, and so I don't seek to disprove it. Saying that science disproves all religion, however, is just as ridiculous as the claims of so-called "creation scientists" who insist that scientific evidence proves that the Universe was created by God some ~6000 years ago, and thus that science disproves Atheism.

    In the end, you'd do well to remember the scientific method. In order for a scientific hypothesis to be valid, it has to be falsifiable. A statement like "God created two human beings in Eden 6000 years ago, and the entire human race is decended from those two ancestors" is falsifiable, as we can find older and more varied human remains around the world. A statement like "God exists", however, is not falsifiable, and therefore is not testable by science. You can disprove certain ideas about God's interaction with human affairs, or you can disprove the literal correctness of certain creation accounts, but you can not disprove the existence of God (him|her|it)self. And, even if you could, many people would still choose to believe in God anyway, just as many people choose to believe in a literal creation now. As a scientist, I have

  • by b-baggins (610215) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @04:10PM (#8444076) Journal
    You didn't even read my comment. Evolutionary theory as it currently stands requires some form of abiogenesis to get started. It would NOT have good explanatory power for the life getting STARTED.

    If you do the math on the chances of the right precursor molecules spontaneously forming without selection pressures, the odds are ridiculously low. I'd have to look it up, but it's on the order of 10^26 against, and that's with ridiculously optimistic concentrations of the right chemicals in the soup. In that time frame, a trillion years is nothing, thus Dawkins' comments.

    To be fair, Dawkins does try to get around the limitation by assuming that the precursor molecues got a kick start from a non-organic matrix that could undergo selection (clays), but he fails to explain how the molecules would be embedded in the right amounts in the clay (a random process). A critical analysis shows the argument to be basically flawed, and we're back to the abiogenesis requirement again. Even Dawkins' doesn't give the clay idea much more than a "just-so" story treatment.

  • by Hiroto. S (631919) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @04:11PM (#8444093) Journal
    Somebody finally asked about the current water and answer was that it is possible 100s of meters below the surface. Still no specific mention of the mud.
  • Re:Key point (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mikerich (120257) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @04:15PM (#8444146)
    Chemical signature would be more likely method of identification.

    One good way that has been used here on Earth is to look for isotopic anomalies in the carbon 12/carbon 13 balance. Life preferentially selects the lighter carbon 12 isotope, so carbon minerals in rocks show carbon 12 enrichment.

    Graphite found in 3.85 billion year old gneiss from Greenland is suspected of being organic in origin from isotopic evidence, even though the original rock has been distorted almost beyond recognition. Since these are the oldest rocks known on Earth, it seems reasonable to attempt similar techniques on Martian rocks when we have some decent samples.

    Best wishes,
    Mike.

  • by Mr. Underbridge (666784) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @04:18PM (#8444180)
    I'm not sure how much of a fossil bacteria-like creatures would leave behind. There might have been life, but still be no discernible fossils (even assuming that fossils would have been preserved). Chemical signature would be more likely method of identification. Then again, we might find fossils and not even recognize them! Life need not be organic. For example, A.G. Cairns-Smith's book "Genetic Takeover and the mineral origins of life" argues that the first forms of life on earth were colloidal clay organisms without organic chemistry. If Cairns-Smith is correct, then perhaps we should be looking for something like that on Mars insteI'm not sure how much of a fossil bacteria-like creatures would leave behind. There might have been life, but still be no discernible fossils (even assuming that fossils would have been preserved). Chemical signature would be more likely method of identification. Then again, we might find fossils and not even recognize them! Life need not be organic. For example, A.G. Cairns-Smith's book "Genetic Takeover and the mineral origins of life" argues that the first forms of life on earth were colloidal clay organisms without organic chemistry. If Cairns-Smith is correct, then perhaps we should be looking for something like that on Mars instead

    Actually, bacteria do in fact leave fossil records [berkeley.edu]

    I don't know much (actually, anything) regarding purported non-carbon "life," but regular ol' bacteria can leave fossils, believe it or not.

  • by mithras the prophet (579978) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @04:28PM (#8444302) Homepage Journal

    Probably? Life on Mars would be the biggest scientific discovery in all the human lifetimes lived thus far, I would say.

    I mean, maybe Copernicus... no... or Galileo... no... Darwin... maybe, but I'd really say that each of those would be mere stepping stones on the way towards the discovery of exobiology. Personally, I'd give my right leg to live in a time when extraterrestrial life is discovered. Maybe others don't feel that strongly, but it would be history-changing.

    Good point about this discovery, though. This is significant, but I agree, maybe more on the level of the peak of an individual's career, and a milestone that people will point to later. But not quite lifetime status. :)

  • by ianscot (591483) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @04:28PM (#8444303)
    *Nuclear power (oooh the scary word!)

    Personally I wasn't eager to combine our "bouncing with airbags" landing approach with nuclear power -- until I googled a little and found the RHUs (Radioisotope Heater Units) on Sojourner. The Viking missions also used nuclear reactors in some capacity. As of a year ago, there also seemed to be specific plans for a long-term Mars rover with a reactor, to be launched in 2009.

    They've worked some on the idea, anyway: Design Concept for a Nuclear Reactor-Powered Mars Rover. [aip.org]

  • by Shadwhawk (561728) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @04:28PM (#8444310)
    I've looked at plenty of the rovers' pictures, and I haven't seen anything that's obviously water ice. Levin's had an axe to grind with NASA for the past thirty years. You'll note he doesn't say -what- pictures clearly show ice, and there are ten thousand pictures to sort through. His 'reverse rain' hypotehsis is pretty silly, too.
  • by applemasker (694059) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @04:31PM (#8444345)
    There are international guidelines on the amount of biological hitchhikers that are allowed on the probes that are sent to other planets. Presumably, Spirit and Opportunity were de-contaminated to these standards (as was Pathfinder/Sojourner). Incidentally, Viking landers were both put in ovens a sterilized before launch, but these days the standard has been to only sterilize certain parts like this and wipe-down disinfect others, which is probably better on the electronics in any event.
  • by so sue mee (660717) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @04:32PM (#8444363)
    http://www.enterprisemission.com/tides.htm [enterprisemission.com]

    ABSTRACT

    Conventional models of Mars, based on measurements by initial Mariner unmanned spacecraft, found an arid, apparently ancient environment without current liquid water. This prompted subsequent, highly negative assessments regarding Mars' history, and the difficulty for the origin and/or evolution of higher forms of life. Later, the unmanned Viking missions (as well as the 1997 Pathfinder Lander) seemed to confirm this barren model. Complex, sometimes contradictory geologic theories to explain this desolate Mars environment have been proposed, based on a wide variety of observed surface phenomena and features. A new model that reconciles major puzzling contradictions among past models is now put forth, using new observations from MGS high-resolution images of Mars and a reevaluation of certain Viking era experiments. Small-scale surface features are identified which, it is proposed, are the direct product of wide spread ancient and recent bursts of subsurface liquid water. These water "stains" are shown to cluster (beyond statistical chance) in an unmistakable tidally-determined, bi-modal distribution on the planet: centered near the Tharsis and antipodal Arabia "bulges." A revaluation of Mars ancient history is therefore proposed, suggesting that Mars (well after solar system formation) was captured into synchronous orbital lock with a larger planetary companion ("Planet V"), accounting for the clustering of present day water bursts around the former beds of two bi-modally distributed "Mars ancient oceans" as a direct result. The current Tharsis and Arabia mantle uplifts are shown to be an inevitable additional fossil signature of such former tidal stresses, induced by a close gravitational relationship with Planet V. Other heretofore inexplicable Martian surface features are shown to be consistent with such a simple "tidal model": Valles Marineris (as an eroded ancient tidal bore, formed immediately post-capture); the presence of the extremely flat terrain covering the northern hemisphere (via deposited sediments from the once tidally supported oceans, when released); and the current trench or "moat" around the Tharsis bulge (from relaxation of Tharsis back into the mantle, after tidal lock was broken). The long-mysterious "Line of Dichotomy" is explained as a remnant of a "blast wave" of debris from this sudden severing of the former orbital lock relationship with Planet V, due to either a catastrophic collision or explosion. Chemical signatures of this extraordinary destruction event on Mars are shown to be consistent with the model; including the distribution of olivine preferentially below the line of dichotomy; the presence of primitive mantle and core materials such as iron and sulfur in unusual abundance on Mars surface; and the concentration of proposed "water stains" in areas bereft of olivine. Mars unusual magnetic field "striping" is now shown to be another unique southern hemisphere signature of this destruction event, caused by standing P and S waves reverberating through the planet's crust as a result of the massive simultaneous impacts from Planet V debris. Recently published research showing unprecedented outflow channels from the Tharsis and Arabia bulges are shown to be consistent with the sudden relaxation of the two tidal oceans, as is the sculpting of huge amounts of material by fluvial processes north of the Arabia bulge. Two possible mechanisms for the destruction of Planet V and the breaking of this tidal lock are outlined. Finally, a new timeline for Mars geologic evolution is proposed that is consistent with these observations, placing these events between capture ~500 MYA and the destruction of Planet V at 65 MYA.
  • Re:Key point (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Lispy (136512) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @04:37PM (#8444416) Homepage
    This depends. If you search in the right spot it's actually very easy. When I was a kid, my dad and I used to visit Solnhofen [solnhofen.de] where they found the Archaeopteryx [talkorigins.org].
    They have digging sites for tourists [jkrieger.de]. With my nine years old it took me about half an hour to find a fossil there wich I still possess. If you know where to look they are all over.

    Lispy
  • Re:So? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by LordK3nn3th (715352) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @04:38PM (#8444432)
    That's assuming life is somehow "special" in the first place. "Special" is a subjective quality... how do you measure how "special" something is?
  • by caffiend666 (598633) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @04:40PM (#8444456) Homepage

    If there was already an appropriate rover on the way, yes.

    The death of the rovers will likely be slow and gradual. First a camera goes, then the arm, then it doesn't have power to move, then the batteries die, not having enough heat to keep the rover warm at night, the one or two functional devices left only operate during daying hours. Then, eventually, they can only ping the things. And, then everything goes quiet.

    Once the batteries fail, many other components will fail due to lack of heating during night and thermal cycles.

    Decades from now, we might still be getting signals from the rovers. The orbiters from viking lasted over a decade. One of the russian lunar rovers operated for 10 months. I would hate to think we can't surpass what the Soviets pulled off 30 years ago.

    The last successful rover lasted several times longer than it was expected to, in fact the rover outlasted the lander that served as a transmitter and a relay station. Upon death of the lander the Soujourner probe was to try to return to the lander. I wondered how long that thing circled the lander, if it if got back at all.... Part of the reason these rovers are all in one units, capable of communicating with earth (at low baud) on their own, was because the last rover outlasted the lander.

    In the two weeks Spirit was useless a few weeks ago, they were afraid components would fail. Now, try to imagine the years it takes to design/launch/wait on/land rovers? What would keep working? One of NASA's pre-Bush-Space-Initiative goals was to build a robot colony on mars. These rovers are not the start though.

    I for one, would like to see them relaunch at least one rover similar to these in the next launch window. They are (were) planning on relaunching the polar lander. And, it would be nice if the next gen non-nuclear rovers could dust themselves, think $20 wiper blades.

  • The God question (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @04:42PM (#8444494)
    regardless of religion, lets say for a moment that you were an all powerful diety, would you seriously create an entire universe to support but ONE intelligent life form?

    i sure as hell wouldn't, and i don't think anyone else imaginative enough to create something as simply beautiful as our planet would either...

    ones creative urges would prevail, and other intelligent life forms would be created; simply for the hell of it if not for any other reasons...
  • by hey! (33014) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @04:44PM (#8444521) Homepage Journal
    The revelation only refutes a portion of the Judeo-Christian(-Muslim?) tradition of the creationism story (which could easily and eventually be modified and bent to the new evidence).

    Agreed.

    I also think that it's important not to patronize the ancient scholars who put Genesis together. Clearly the account has been compiled from several sources, a fact that the compilers, if not future generations, would be quite clear on. I also suspect they were also well aware that they were not writing a natural history text, although they probably attempted to be consistent with the known cosmology of their time.

    The main point of the creation story, in particular the story of the fall is this:


    Why is there physical pain and suffering? Why is there psychological suffering?


    To this, they answer the question with another question:


    Would you rather be an inanimate lump of clay? Or an animal that can't think except in the moment?


    This way of answering is especially poignant if you imagine the compiler as a religious scholar or scribe, an educated sensitive person who would as part of his job think about things like the inevitability of death. What he is saying that knowledge and self awareness may be a blessing, but they are also a burden.

    Taking Genesis as a text on natural history reduces a profound statement about the human condition to an obsolete and disproven speculation.

  • by jafac (1449) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @04:44PM (#8444530) Homepage
    Building on my last post on this topic - true - the Bible does not say that there's no life anywhere but Earth. But SOME Fundamentalists do take that to mean that things not explicitly stated in the Bible, can not be true. These are the same people who go to extreme lengths to explain why Pi=3, the Earth is really flat (round-earthers are a leftist conspiracy), and the Earth does not circle the Sun. And, of course, the moon landing and this mars junk were just a hoax filmed in some garage in Palmdale.

    It all really depends on how literally the religious adherents take scripture. There is a strong Bible Literalist movement within Christianity. Intelligent Extraterrestrial Life could easily be rationalized away as demons trying to steer us from the truth, etc.
    But there are also a great many Christians who don't believe that the Bible is the literal unaltered Word of God. (Like me). Often, I feel like we're a dwindling minority. It's as if the strength of their faith depends on the crutch of rationalized physical evidence the Bible represents to them. Sad that their faith is really so weak that they require physical evidence.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @04:45PM (#8444553)
    One signature may be small magnetite crystals. One the controversies with the "fossils" in the martian meteorite was how to be sure they were really fossils. The argument pretty much devolved into two lines of reasoning when it was reduced to the simplest form. The objects pro) looked like fossils, but con) they were far, far smaller than expected from comparable earthly forms, but pro) contained magnetite (hematite) in a form that ONLY occurs in lifeforms on earth, but con) they came from Mars, which totals up to "no one has the vote." Interestingly, hematite was one of the attractions of the Opportunity landing site.

  • Re:Key point (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jerf (17166) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @04:48PM (#8444591) Journal
    We don't need to contaminate Mars with the Earth Bacteria that a manned mission would introduce until we are sure there is a very low probility of finding living independantly evolved life.

    Why?

    (Don't dismiss this. It's a hard question. Give it some thought.)
  • by Jerf (17166) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @05:12PM (#8444865) Journal
    Speaking as a thoughtful Christian who still holds some of the beliefs that many of my Slashdot bretheren would take great pleasure in savaging... I've asked myself a few times what it would take to firmly disprove my religion, short of dying. For instance, a device that can "look back" in time and disprove the Ressurection once and for all. (Without that, we have nothing; that's said directly by Paul in the Bible.)

    Encountering an intelligent, human-or-above race with absolutely no conception of God as I know him, and absolutely no conception of such anywhere in their history (perhaps they've strayed, after all), is another one. The logic is hard to verbalize but at least for myself it would be a deathblow. It is possible that something in the encounter would cause some other belief to be viable (perhaps they had some other conception that clearly showed ours to be a misinterpretation), and I can see middle grounds where it would a toss-up, but if they were clearly 100% atheistic and always had been, that would leave my faith in tatters.

    On a somewhat weaker note, I don't expect to actually meet any extraterrestrials in this life; Original Sin is clearly highly contagious and we should be kept isolated. There's been some science fiction in similar veins. On the "100% confirmation" note, it would be interesting if we encountered a race that had no original sin. Regardless, while I can't speculate what would happen well until it actually happens, meeting extraterrestrial intelligent life would have some effect on me.

    Non-intelligent life doesn't faze me in the slightest; besides, it may still be of Earthly origin even if it's on Mars. If life is found and it has identical DNA (same acids, et. al.), that will be the most likely conclusion, that both planets have the same basic source of life, carried via cosmic events like asteroid impacts. (Which planet it started on would probably be absolutely impossible to determine, if it turns out both were capable of supporting life at roughly the same time.)
  • It wouldn't have taken very much at all to decapsulate the plutonium, had the probe accidentally re-entered the atmosphere. But if that did happen, the results would not be so terrible.

    Incorrect. The Plutonium is encased in a box explicitly designed to survive reentry. There have been several instances where launches have failed and RTGs have reentered the atmosphere. In one case, NASA actually reused the RTG. Previous to NASA's use of black box style technology, they simply burned up the RTGs in the atmosphere. Eventually they figured that wasn't such a good idea.

    Russia continued to burn up RTGs even after we'd stopped. One satellite actually burned up over Canada. No deaths were ever linked to the incident, but Canada made a big stink over it and had Russia pay for reparations.

    But you need to make sure that your arguments in favor of them are well-thought and appropriate, or you sound just as stupid as the vehemently anti-RTG nutjobs.

    You'll have to forgive me, but they *really* piss me off. Even a *little* bit of research would show them that the risk is practically nill. In fact, there's much more risk from all the other chemicals on the rocket than from the RTG.
  • Re:Key point (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Enigma2175 (179646) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @05:19PM (#8444936) Homepage Journal
    If we brought back 10 tons of mars rocks, the chances of getting a fossil are still slim to none. Talk about needle in a haystack. Not to mention the fact that you have to land near some of it to begin with.

    According to NASA [nasa.gov], a meteorite that was discovered in Antartica contains indications that life once existed on Mars. If life was abundant enough that a rock could be ejected from Mars and subsequently make it to Earth with some evidence of life (structures similar to Earth fossils and organic molecules) then I think the chances of finding a fossil in a targeted sample are much greater than you assume.
  • by AftanGustur (7715) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @05:20PM (#8444948) Homepage


    What was that Rabbit thing. [weirdload.com] opportunity photographed on Mars and why did Nasa destroy it ??

  • Re:Where did it go? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by praedor (218403) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @05:35PM (#8445099) Homepage

    It most likely went down. Into the rocks (locked up forever in the rock crystalline structures), into subsurface ice, into aquifers where the pressure and temperature are high enough to sustain liquid water.


    The ONLY reason we have liquid water available to us on earth is because we have a very active geochemical cycle. Water is "lost" into the mantle at subduction zones and seep into cracks. Some is lost by becoming chemically locked up in rocks. Some is lost as vapor to space. That dumped into the mantle is recycled to the surface via volcanic activity.


    Also, earth's gravity is substantially higher than Mars' so the atmospheric pressure is sustained (though we lose atmosphere to space all the time) and rejuvenated via an active geochemical cycle, and this atmospheric pressure allows for stable liquid water.


    Mars has no major, active geochemical cycle. It likely retains enough heat from the core deep down in the crust to sustain liquid water (and possible extremophile organisms) - where pressures are also higher. As for atmosphere, without a constant geochemical cycle to keep it replenished AND with a low gravity, its atmosphere is lost virtually irretrievably to space and into becoming chemically locked up in rocks (most of the oxygen on Mars is locked up in rocks).

  • by b-baggins (610215) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @05:38PM (#8445130) Journal
    The ignorance here is astounding. It is NOT possible to derive self-replicating RNA molecules simply by mixing the precursor chemicals together. They won't form. The intermediary chemicals are unstable and will collapse back into the primordial goup. That's why the time frame is so ridiculously long.

    And many of the precursor chemicals do NOT exist outside of living organisms. You may find Adenine in a nebula, but I don't think you're going to find N10-Formyl-THF in an interstellar gas cloud.
  • by Hiro Antagonist (310179) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @05:47PM (#8445216) Journal
    You need to re-read the book; Dawkins makes the exact opposite claim in Watchmaker. Namely, that ever-increasing chains of replicating molecules eventually build to the point of reaching self-replication.

    So you start with molecules that self-organize -- crystals. These molecules tend to provide a focal point for other similar molecules; the crystal structure grows bigger and bigger.

    Eventually, parts of the crystal recombine in a way that produces faster replication, at the expense of having a larger and more complex molecule. You now have a different crystal, one which is more complex, and which is 'better suited' towards survival because it can increase in size more rapidly (eating food, in effect).

    Repeat this a number of times, and you eventually get a molecular structure that is both complex and capable of self-replication; you would expect that this molecule would follow its crystaline roots, by having a more-or-less fixed structure composed of simple compounds that interact with other readily available compounds to replicate.

    Sounds like DNA to me.
  • Re:Key point (Score:3, Interesting)

    by thales (32660) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @05:58PM (#8445341) Homepage Journal
    The risk of contamination is far lower with unmanned probes than it is with manned probes. They can surrive procedures that would kill astronauts in addition to bacteria.

  • Religion (Score:3, Interesting)

    by The Queen (56621) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @06:00PM (#8445359) Homepage
    My friend drew (look him up on the boards at holophrastic.com) once wrote a beautiful essay on how the speed of light can be used to prove the Bible wrong on its creationist timeline. (He concluded by telling all the fundies to give us their toasters and go back to the stone age. It was coarse but intellectual. I love drew.)

    Anyway, since there is a big section of Christians who already believe that Genesis is not exactly literal and/or chronological, they could easily fit life on Mars into the story of creation, somehow. The real question is, which of them will WANT to, and which will just add to their belief that science is evil.

    Personally, I'd like to see the whole thing blow up. Pat Robertson lives in my neck of the woods, and he is a constant source of entertainment. I would love to tune in one day to something like, "Today on the 700 Club - Life on Mars: Scientific Proof of God's Love, or Evidence of the Location of Hell?" (Mars being the planet of War, ruled by Aries the Ram, a Fire Sign, etc. and so on...)
  • Re:Key point (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Stephen Samuel (106962) <samuel@@@bcgreen...com> on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @06:00PM (#8445361) Homepage Journal
    NASA has never lost a human in space,

    On the other hand, NASA has lost a disturbingly high percentage of spacecraft sent to mars -- and it's a lot harder to build a successful manned mission than it is to build a successful non-return robotic probe.

    First thing, for a lot of good reasons, would be a robotic returnmission. Once we've proven that we can successuflly return anything from mars, then we can look at returning something with a PhD.

  • Re:Key point (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jerf (17166) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @06:10PM (#8445454) Journal
    So if we assess the life on Mars to some adequate degree, collecting the information we can't after we step foot on the planet, you'd be OK with then settling it? (After all it's not like we settle the entire planet at once and there's still room for significant untainted work even after that point.)

    FWIW, that's my call on the issue too, so this isn't intended as antagonistic. I just find that too many people hold this position due to a knee-jerk environmentalism, which if examined, rests on axioms that don't apply to Mars. Thus, the knee-jerk reactions often differ from what the person would really think if they sat down for a bit and thought about the issue, starting from whatever axioms they hold dear.
  • Re:Key point (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Moofie (22272) <leeNO@SPAMringofsaturn.com> on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @06:28PM (#8445595) Homepage
    The return is also far lower.

    Bacterial contamination of samples is a problem that is solved on a daily basis here on Earth. There is no reason to suppose the same conditions could not be replicated on Mars. It's not like the astronauts are going to be carrying these samples in their jeans pockets...
  • by fire-eyes (522894) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @06:35PM (#8445645) Homepage
    Richard C Hoagland (remember him? No? Remember the "face"?) has an interesting theory, called the Mars Tidal Model.

    It's a long but awfully interesting read. You can find it here, though it is in PDF:

    http://www.lunaranomalies.com/images/TIDES.pdf

    Google claims you can view it in HTML, however this isn't working for me:

    http://216.239.53.104/search?q=cache:aM0G3cEtDyc J: www.enterprisemission.com/files/TIDES.pdf+&hl=en&l r=lang_en&ie=UTF-8

    Richard's main site is http://www.enterprisemission.com/ . Some of his stuff is waay out there, but some of it is truly interesting and possible.
  • Re:Religion (Score:2, Interesting)

    by thogard (43403) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @06:54PM (#8445807) Homepage
    You left out the word "most" before Christians. Life on mars would upset a great many people in the US and other places. Most large chruches change their teachings slowly over time and are willing to accept new variaions as long as the basis isn't changed. Facts will be questioned if they conflict with a major religion. For example look at Osiris who has many unique concepts in common with Jesus as far as Catholics are concerned (resurrection and concepts around communion are about the same). I've seen evidence that the old gods of Egypt were sort of seperate but one (holy trinity like) but that concept is discounted. I'm more concerned with why to discard the concept? Is it because its a bit too close for many Christians? The concept that the devil is part of the trinity would be hard to buy for people that spent too much time in a catholic school.
  • by Decaff (42676) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @07:07PM (#8445969)
    Mars is already contaminated with Earth Bacteria. There has been significant exchange of materials between Earth and Mars as a result of meteor impacts splashing small bits of each planet into space. It has been demonstrated that lots of bacterial species can cope with the tremendous forces and pressures that these bits would be exposed to, so they could (and almost certainly do) easily survive an interplanetary trip. Discovery of DNA-based life on mars, or anywhere else in the solar system, would not answer the question about whether or not we are alone in the Universe, as all that life is very likely to have come from the same single source.
  • Re:Key point (Score:5, Interesting)

    by meiocyte (455845) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @07:12PM (#8446022) Homepage
    This is a nice illustration of the logical fallacy of "begging the question", or circular logic.

    Your first premise, "I am having thought", assumes the very thing you're trying to prove, namely that "I" exists. You have no right to use "I" in your premises if what you're trying to prove is that "I" exists. So nothing has been proven here.

  • Re:Religion (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jregel (39009) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @07:13PM (#8446042) Homepage
    Maybe I can provide a Christian perspective on this (as I am a practicing Christian).

    The Bible was not written as a scientific text book. It has a different purpose: To reveal God's interaction with humankind. Some of the language is poetic, some historic, some is written in a very pictorial language. This shouldn't be surprising if you consider the Bible is composed of 66 books written by many different people in different times and different cultural contexts.

    My personal view that those who say the Bible is to be read completely literally ignores the historical context and we can easily apply our cultural norms to a situation and get something completely different out of it. I don't believe that the world was created in 7 days, although I do believe that God could do it that way if He wanted to. The point of the opening part of Genesis is to establish that God was around before the world, that He was responsible for creation (the actual details are pictorial) and that the mess we are in today is a result of us rebelling against God. That's the important bit - the relationship between God and us.

    Now to stay on topic, I believe in a Creator God. A God that looked at His work and was pleased. We have a pretty rough idea of how big the universe is and the thought that it's all empty apart from this little planet may be true, but the God portrayed in the Bible is more likely to have created a universe that is teeming with life.

    Was there life on Mars? I wouldn't be surprised, because if God wanted to put it there (or created the laws of physics that enable it to start) he could.
  • Re:Key point (Score:5, Interesting)

    by thales (32660) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @07:16PM (#8446068) Homepage Journal
    "we have designed special chambers where we can simulate the Martian environment. They are, of course, called "Mars jars." With earthly organisms, mainly bacteria, in the jars, we have reproduced the daily temperature variations, the low atmospheric pressure, the composition of the Martian air, and the ultraviolet radiation.

    Earth Life Survives Martian Conditions

    Most of the organisms quickly die. But in every sample of terrestrial soil we have found varieties of micro-organisms that survive the Martian conditions, some indefinitely. They find the lack of oxygen and the temperature extremes to their liking. They find perfect safety, under small particles of soil, from the deadly ultraviolet light. When the subsurface water content increases slightly, they thrive in the seemingly hostile environment"


    Carl Sagan

    Mars Jars experiments over the past 30 years have shown that Earth Microbes CAN survive in a Martian enviroment, so don't even try to pretend that it can't happen.
  • by RedWizzard (192002) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @07:18PM (#8446093)
    Don't be ridiculous. An RTG with twice the power output would have weighed far less than the batteries, solar panels, and mounting.
    You are wrong. An RTG with twice the power output (ie. the model [qmetrics.com] used on Cassini) weighs about 120 pounds. The batteries [space.com] (including support struts and heater) weigh about 20 pounds. There are two on the rovers so 40 pounds total. The solar panels will not weight more than one of the batteries, let alone the 80 pounds that would take the power supply weight up to the weight of an RTG.
  • Re:Key point (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Jerf (17166) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @07:27PM (#8446181) Journal
    Why is "landing on Mars" playing God when "exploring another continent" isn't?

    Or do you live where all your ancestors have lived since the beginning of life itself?

    And what is "Playing God", anyhow? I've never heard a coherent definition that doesn't boil down to "living life normally".

    (There are legitimate ethical concerns here. I'm saying "playing God" isn't a useful way to think about them. We are. We exist. By existing, we affect the Universe around us. By not existing, we affect the Universe around us. This is just sloppy thinking.)
  • by caffiend666 (598633) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @07:31PM (#8446214) Homepage

    Cooling is an issue. NASA couldn't use the high-gain transmitter on the Spirit rover at first because it generated too much heat. They had to wait until they touched soil to have the additional heat sink (the soil) where they could safely use the transmitter. See:

    • Cooling Spirit off. Temperatures atop the metallic lander are warmer than expected, so the scientists on Earth are working to keep the probe cooler. Limiting the use of one antenna cooled Spirit slightly.

    ...taken from the bottom of this article on USAToday [usatoday.com]. During a summer day Mars is room temperature, so any equipment that would run hot on earth would run hot there as well. Also, you have less ability to lose heat to air, because of the thinner atmosphere.

  • by blobbo (732096) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @08:07PM (#8446620)
    That's really not that crazy. Terraforming is an important goal of astrobiology. There are significant risks, and several ethical questions involved, but it's not unrealiseable. Within 100 years we could warm Mars to almost the same temperature of Earth - the seas that we think existed would flow again, and *cross fingers* we'd see a whole new biology erupt before our eyes. It's really very exciting. Check out Nasa's Astrobiology website for more details at: http://astrobiology.arc.nasa.gov/ I took a course on it at my university - I'd assume other colleges offer similar courses. They come highly recommended. I have a real appreciation for the work the biologists do in determining the origins of life, both here and *out there*. Neat stuff...
  • Re:First Life (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @08:10PM (#8446649)
    Your comment has a couple notable errors, though your overall point may hold.

    Anaerobic metabolism is very common. Our muscle cells will engage in this form of metabolism when it's not getting oxygen fast enough. The byproduct is lactic acid and the cause of muscle cramps.

    Also from what I recall it's regular eubacteria that "go dormant" when conditions are unfavorable. Most notably Bacillus. It becomes a spore and drastically slows it's metabolic rate. Intrestingly Bacillus is the source of Bt toxin (an insecticide) and Antrax (a biological weapon). Also autoclaves are designed to kill bacillus spores, since that's the most hardy form of life we've found so far.

  • Re:Key point (Score:3, Interesting)

    by identity0 (77976) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @09:01PM (#8447190) Journal
    No, that rover/human comparison doesn't make sense, and it annoys me when someone says, "A human can do more on Mars than this rover, ergo we should send a human to Mars."

    The current rover is the size of a golf cart, and the spaceship itself smaller than a minivan. We simply could not get a man on Mars for the weight/price of one of these unmanned missions.

    To do a rational comparison, you are going to have to compare a manned mission against an unmanned mission of the same size and/or cost. If we assume an Apollo-sized lander with two guys, let me point out that we could probobly fit a fully automated geology and chemistry lab in the space that would otherwise be taken up by crew and their supplies. We could even have more room in a sample return capsule if we didn't also have to bring back two humans with them. If you're going to propose a 1.5-year mission, the weight of all the food and water(or a large hydrophnoics system) we would need to bring along could go to a nuclear reactor or additional rovers & labs that would make the mission even more efficent.

    The limitations of the Mars rovers are chiefly that there is a delay in communications, and that there is a bandwidth limit on communications. A manned mission would suffer from both problems.

    Come to think of it, the most efficent way to run a mission in terms of science/cost would be a large-scale rover mission with a large sample return system. After all, on the Apollo missions the majority of the science was done after the rocks were brought back to Earth, to be studied by many trained geologists instead of one or two on the moon.
  • by QuantumFTL (197300) * <justin.wickNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @09:16PM (#8447321)
    Slashdot may have its faults, but this is one if its best features. We can hear directly from the folks actually making the news. Rock on, Justin! Thanks for posting here and giving us a first person view of JPL, and thanks for helping advance human understanding of the mysterious universe in which we exist.

    Well, I may be pretty darn low on the totem pole here (I develope portions of the rigorously engineered ground data systems software, and solve random technical/mathematical problems for the scientists) however there's a nontechnical, human side to this exploration effor that I feel I"m qualified to shed some light on regardless of my rank. I work with a lot of qualified, amazing people, (Squyres really is as cool as he seems on TV) and it's something I wish more /.ers could experience. I'd invite all of you over here to be part of it (though I think a real-life slashdotting would be a horrible thing to see... it'd make a riot seem like a tea party). But I guess all I can do is share a few tidbits.

    I hope everyone here takes what I post as it should be - the thoughts of an intern who's been working with the team for 4 years, caught up in something so much bigger that never ceases to surprise, amaze, and overstress :)

    I would like to put forth something that many /.ers don't realize, that /. itseslf has been a contribution to NASA's space program. Myself and others I know have found many useful pieces of information on slashdot that we use in our work (that's how I justify my addiction :)). Hell, we certainly wouldn't be where we are without open source. Almost all of the tools my team uses are open source, and we have a lot of open source software incorporated into our program (Maestro/SAP, which will hopefully be fully openned up by the end of the year). I don't think I coudl give back to slashdot/OSS what has been given to me.

    Yes most of the comments are people randomly shouting about things they know nothing about, but there's always that insightful/informative gem in there that's educational, enlightening, or maybe just brings a chuckle to my workday (though I have a tendency to laugh rather loudly, probably not good for at the office).

    Thanks to all of you who post, especially those with something good to say!

    Cheers,
    Justin Wick
    Mars Exploration Rovers
  • by paroneayea (642895) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @10:15PM (#8447914) Homepage
    Think about it. There has to be some reason why Mars once was covered in water and now isn't. Could the same thing happen to our own planet?
  • by gekhond (624768) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @11:03PM (#8448273)
    I watched the news conference and was surprised by the same thing. Of course, this discovery is scientifically very important, but I wonder why the presence or absence of water in the soil at this time was not part of the discussion. Not even a single reference was made. It seems it would be easy (?) and important to verify whether or not the soil at the landing site contains water *now*. And, given the new direction of the Bush Moon/Mars plan, such a determination may be even more important to future human missions than the verification of whether that location was ever wet or not in the distant past. What am I missing?
  • Re:Religion (Score:2, Interesting)

    by glitch23 (557124) on Tuesday March 02, 2004 @11:34PM (#8448480)

    We have a pretty rough idea of how big the universe is and the thought that it's all empty apart from this little planet may be true, but the God portrayed in the Bible is more likely to have created a universe that is teeming with life.

    Was there life on Mars? I wouldn't be surprised, because if God wanted to put it there (or created the laws of physics that enable it to start) he could.

    He could by why would he? What part of the portrayal of God would lead you to believe we aren't alone? The Bible doesn't mention another planet or another group of humans on another planet or anything else along those lines that might be anywhere but here on Earth. God could have made life there if he wanted to but only humans have souls and I don't see why God would separate 2 species that have souls by putting them on different planets. There definitely is no reason to have animals there and God never created aliens so that rules them out. Could there have been humans? I guess since I can't say there wasn't you would say there could be but then I have to ask what the point of that would have been since we have never been in contact with them and I'd have to question why their existence has been hidden from us?

    I'm a Christian and not beating up on you but I don't see a reason for God putting life on Mars, let alone any humans. That is what Earth is for, we (and all animals as God made animals for us to use as we deemed necessary) were confined at Creation to this planet but that doesn't mean we can't move off of this planet on our own volition.

  • by cavac (640390) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @01:04AM (#8449089) Homepage
    Hard to say. Except for earth, we don't have any examples yet, which means there could be only very rude educated guesswork.

    But i'd say the chances are pretty good, since it's known (or at least highly possible) that primitive live like one-cell-organism could survive in space for a long time through hybernating. And it is known that planetary material could be ejected into space (like from meteor impacts or violent vulcanic explosions like in Krakatau - see here [irfamedia.com] and here [sdsu.edu] and land on another planet like mars.

    Although the chances of survival for one-cell-organisms in a single incident are fairly small, there must have been thousands - if not millions - of these catastrophic events in earths past. One of the biggest was presumably the asteroid that created a thermonuclear winter about 65 million years ago. This one is known to have ejected material out of earths orbit.

    So, all things considered, chances are that some bacteria could have survived an ejection from earth, the travel through interplanetary space, reentry into mars' atmosphere and adaption to mars' climate.

    For the chances of complex life-forms: Well, it pretty much depends on many factors: The past climate of mars, if the first life-forms were native or not - and if not - how sucessfull presumed introduced life-forms from other planets adapted to the given and changing climate on mars.

    As for fish, i'm don't really know, i'll rather bet on plant-life and rather primitive water-based or sand-based animal life-forms.
  • Re:reaction rates (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jogie112 (631492) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @02:22AM (#8449460)
    I agree with your main argument. Assigning probabilities to events which we don't fully understand is somewhat rediculous. Any sort of argument that uses a figure like "10^26, yada yada" is interesting because its the best science with the knowledge we have right now. But trying to figure out how life began/was created is so difficult, we don't even know what we don't know. Any statistics we come up with are derived from a hopelessly incomplete picture.
  • that's a theory (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ajagci (737734) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @03:50AM (#8449854)
    The notion that Mars has been contaminated via meteor impacts is still a theory. It's a plausible theory, but just a theory. It's, in fact, a theory we could try to confirm by examining what kind of life, if any, exists on Mars. That in itself would be a spectacular scientific result.

    But once Mars has been contaminated by bacteria from earth, that opportunity is gone because we won't be able to distinguish bacteria we brought from bacteria that traveled via meteor impact.
  • Re:Key point (Score:2, Interesting)

    by alex_tibbles (754541) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @05:15AM (#8450166) Journal
    Life does not preferentially select carbon-12. Carbon-12 and -13 are chemically indistinguishable. There is no way that a (bio-)chemical mechanism could distinguish between them.

    If life did select -12, then radio-carbon dating would simply say that all dead things are exactly the same age.
    RC dating works because when alive, an organism like a plant takes up carbon from the atmosphere which has c-12 and c-13 at a known ratio (approx.). This maintains the atmospheric ratio in the organism's body. When it dies, it ceases to take up from the atmosphere. Since the c-13 decays (known half-life) then the current ratio of c-12 to c-13 implies the time passed between death and now.

    alex
  • by Skip666Kent (4128) on Wednesday March 03, 2004 @01:41PM (#8453397)
    You know, even after weeding out the typical 'crackpot' angle's that fluff up the piece, there is the none-the-less compelling question as to why the rover veered (veered, not slipped) to squash the bunny-thing.

    I mean really, why?

    And why say "whoa, slippage!" to the press, when it doesn't look as though there was any slippage of any sort whatsoever?

    And why is there no better image of the 'bunny' in any of the panoramic pics? Even if it was just junk from the lander, it would be interesting, but it didn't look to be the case as it seemed to be buried in the soil somewhat.

    I mean, does it not look to most of you as though the lander intentionally backed over that specific object at least once if not twice? Does it not strike you as at least a little wacky that the 'slippage' should eradicate the bunny junk so completely?

    Forget the Masons, Meninblack and UFO's. Just explain to me what's in the freekin' picture!

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