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Mars Space Science

Biological Activity on Mars 489

Posted by Zonk
from the evil-green-things-from-outer-space dept.
visination.com writes "Recent ground based observations of Mars have confirmed the presence of water and methane. The 300 year life time of methane on Mars is short, giving scientists reason to beleive that Mars may be biologically active." From the article: "Every one of these longitudes shows a very substantial enhancement in the equatorial zone...So this is a very intense source of methane on Mars in this region. It also requires a very rapid decay of methane...more rapid than photochemistry would allow..."
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Biological Activity on Mars

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  • by uberdave (526529) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @06:01PM (#12286566) Homepage
    I'd be glad if they found such evidence. It would provide the best possible excuse for a manned mission.
  • Just Curious (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BigDogCH (760290) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @06:04PM (#12286602) Journal
    Okay, firstly, I am not a follower of any major religion, and I have not read the bible, so that is the purpose of this question...

    After reading that article, and then reading another article advertised on the same page here [livescience.com] I was starting to feel as if i would be surprised if we DIDN'T find evidence of life on mars. Anyway, I was just wondering what remifications such a finding would have on the bible followers. Is there any reference in the bible as to whether life on other planets exists. Almost every scientific discovery is met with religous opposition, so I was wondering if anyone had any opinions from the religous area. Does the bible say anything about life on other planets?
  • by Derling Whirvish (636322) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @06:06PM (#12286628) Journal
    There are some rather strange images [msss.com] from the Mars Orbiter Camera [msss.com] that don't appear to show geologic activity at first glance and do resemble bacteria beds or something organic. We need to go investigate!
  • Fossils? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by JTWYO (583112) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @06:08PM (#12286644)
    One thing I haven't seen discussed but would like to, is to what stage could life have evolved in the period that it was particularly ripe for life? In that time frame, could there have been significant multicellular life? Significant enough to leave interesting fossils? It has been a lifelong dream of mine to go fossil hunting in an old river or lakebed on Mars. I'm young, so I might still realize it (even though highly, highly unlikely), unless the period of wetness on mars didn't last long enough to have any hope for such things. I'd settle for piloting a probe equipped with a little pick and brush. Fingers crossed.
  • by DumbSwede (521261) <slashdotbin@hotmail.com> on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @06:10PM (#12286661) Journal
    I understand the one-step-at-time approach NASA is pursuing with regard to the search for life on Mars, but it strikes me a little odd that the methane concentrations on Mars are being measured by telescopes based here on Earth. Why haven't current orbiters been equipped to sense this in a more direct fashion. I would think exact precise chemical composition of the air would be a high priority. In fact, how sensitive would the Viking data have been on showing possible methane concentrations in the atmosphere? My recommendation to NASA: more emphasis on chemical analysis in future missions. Yeah, I know the Rocket Scientists are probably already thinking this. Hopefully this new data will get the proper equipment funded for the next Mars shots. And yes I know everything is a trade off and we do chemical analysis as part of every mission to some degree. But damn, we have to use scopes here on Earth to get this data?!?
  • Re:Terraforming (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nizo (81281) * on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @06:11PM (#12286673) Homepage Journal
    Unless this life can kill us first, guess who will be living on mars after we arrive, and who will go extinct first? Read "Red Mars" if you aren't sure what the answer is, or ask the dodo bird.

    But don't worry, we are probably just picking up methane from frozen deposits that are slowly melting or something like that.

  • Re:Just Curious (Score:3, Interesting)

    by toygeek (473120) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @06:17PM (#12286731) Homepage Journal
    The Bible makes no mention of life on other planets. Instead it is focused on life here on earth and what Gods will is, and what his Kindom is, and who his Seed is.

    As for Religion being opposed to science in many ways, that has been very true. Even Gallileo was imprisoned by the catholic church because he believed that the Earth was not the center of the universe.

    You must realize though that these conflicts were between *religion* and science, not the *Bible* and science.

    The Bible, while not a scientific document (and it does not intend to be one) does hold some VERY accurate, simple scientific truths. While his contemporaries believed the world to be flat (along with science at the time), the prophet Isaiah spoke of "the circle of the earth". Another scripture speaks of the Earth hanging by nothing, which is accurate.

    Does the Bible have any real thoughts on whether or not there COULD be life anywhere else other than Earth? Well, it does speak of spirit creatures that exist in another realm, with God himself being one of these creatures.

    I hope this helps answer your question.
  • Re:Terraforming (Score:2, Interesting)

    by zoloto (586738) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @06:18PM (#12286743)
    screw it. I say we terraform it anyways. Micro sized colonies of amoeba like creatures are great, but if we "stopped" at every pool of living cells we'd walk on eggshells our whole lives! Mars get's special treatment since it's another planet?

    Sorry, nothing will form there. Nothing IS there. It's just like the search for the missing link from ape to man. It simply won't be found out.

    And one of these days' I'll look forward to presenting the evidence to you directly and without a doubt people will know.
  • by Derling Whirvish (636322) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @06:20PM (#12286760) Journal
    Even more such pictures are at this site [curiousnotions.com] dedicated to pointing them out. Wow. Just wow.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @06:33PM (#12286867)
    Quoting the author of "Creater and the Cosmos" (book). Sorry I don't have the name, I memorized this but forgot the guy's name. The book is not in front of me.
    I predict that someday life will be found on Mars. This has nothing to do with the origins of life. It has everything to do with Mars' proximity to Earth.

    He went on to describe how bacteria are routinely found in the upper reaches of the atmosphere, and how meteorite impacts are almost certain to propel them into space. Furthermore, he described how many species of bacteria form spores, and that these spores were known to tolerate high temperatures, low temperatures, radiation (!), and exposure to a vacuum for an extended period of time.

    In essence, bacteria can make the trip to Mars. The only question is whether or not Earth bacteria can survive there.
  • ESA probe (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jd (1658) <imipak&yahoo,com> on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @06:34PM (#12286877) Homepage Journal
    The ESA "mothership" that deposited Beagle 2 all over the Martian landscape has a spectrometer and it has been observing methane releases for some time. The ESA has been unsure, though, whether it was due to life or geological activity. Trust NASA to go with the more exciting option, with no more data to go on.
  • Re:Terraforming (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MightyMartian (840721) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @06:37PM (#12286905) Journal
    Before we destroy them, ought we not study them. Important questions beckon if this does pan out. Off the top of my head:

    1. Does this life chemically resemble life on Earth?

    2. If it does, does it use RNA/DNA or something very close to these molecules?

    3. If it does, then is Mars or Earth or possibly some other place in the solar system the point where the initial abiogenesis occured?

    4. If Martian life does not appear to be closely related or at all related, then what possible abiogenesis pathways occured to produce Martian organisms?

    There's a lot to be learned about both worlds from this, so I hope before someone decides to terraform they learn a considerable amount about any potential biotic activity on Mars.

  • Re:Terraforming (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Forezt (769932) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @06:46PM (#12287006) Homepage
    Chances life on Mars wouldn't do much to Terraforming with the way things are going in our world today. Populations will inevitably rise, governments will inevitably feel the pressure, and people will always just want to change Mars "because it's there".

    Other than the colonization issue, mining operations might also become a big problem. Disturbing aboriginal environments could make it nearly impossible to study anything, let alone avoid contamination by Terran microbes.

    Like someone else who replied here, I would recommend the Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson if you're interested in all the political, social, and ethical issues of terraforming the red planet.

    It is my personal opinion that if there is life on Mars, the best we can do is build large domes over craters, valleys, and even calderas that could act as large city-sized habitats. If there is not, then we should terraform to a point where it's livable to twenty kilometers above the datum so that the intense vertical scale of Mars would keep most of the Tharsis Bulge and other areas in thier aboriginal state.
  • by isomeme (177414) <cdberry@gmail.com> on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @07:48PM (#12287516) Homepage Journal
    Actually it might provide just the opposite. Robots are a lot less likely to contaminate Mars with Terran microbes. It's effectively impossible to keep a manned mission from dropping a few microbes onto the surface. And once that happens, you'll forever after be wondering whether any further evidence of life is just some Terran bug making a go of it. Not likely, but also not a good thing for biologists to have to worry about.
  • Re:Just Curious (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @08:14PM (#12287707)
    As to my own upbringing, I was raised as a Christian, and in catechism class we were taught the question and answer:

    Q. What is the chief teaching of the Catholic Church about Jesus Christ?

    A. The chief teaching of the Catholic Church about Jesus Christ is that He is God made man. (A Catechism of Christian Doctrine: Revised Edition of the Baltimore Catechism, No. 2. Paterson, New Jersey: St. Anthony Guild Press, 1941, 15)

    But when I later went to a Catholic university, I could not help reflecting that man was limitary and finite, while God was not, and I asked myself why I believed that Jesus was God.

    If one could point in answer to the scriptures, I found that modern textual studies of the New Testament had raised large question marks as to that book's authenticity. In a course in theology, I read a work by Joachim Jeremias, one of the foremost exegetes of the New Testament in this century, who after a lifetime of study of the original, finally agreed with the German theologian Rudolph Bultmann that "without a doubt it is true to say that the dream of ever writing a biography of Jesus is over" (The Problem of the Historical Jesus, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1972, 12), meaning that even the chronology of the life of Jesus could not be established from the New Testament. So how then, I wondered, with the question of whether or not he was God?

    Indeed, although ordinary Christians seem quite unaware of the revolution that has taken place in New Testament scholarship by Christians over the past thirty years, if we look at the literature, we find such paragraphs as the following, from a textbook by James D.G. Dunn for university students in their third year of New Testament studies. The italics are his: Similarly the thought of Jesus' deity seems to be a relatively late arrival on the first-century stage. Paul does not yet understand the risen Christ as the object of worship: he is the theme of worship, the one for whom praise is given, the one whose risen presence in and through the Spirit constitutes the worshipping community, the one through whom the prayer prays to God (Romans 1.8; 7.25; II Corinthians 1.20; Colossians 3.17) but not the object of worship or prayer. So too his reticence about calling Jesus "God". Even the title "Lord" becomes a way of distinguishing Jesus from God rather than identifying him with # God (Romans 15.6; I Corinthians 8.6; 15.24-28; II Corinthians 1.3; 11.31; Ephesians 1.3, 17; Philippians 2.11; Colossians 1.3). Paul was and remained a monotheist. That reticence in calling Jesus "God" is only really overcome towards the end of the first century with the Pastorals (Titus 2.13) and again with Fourth Gospel (John 1.1, 18; 20.28). (Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: An Inquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity. London and Philadelphia: SCM Press and Trinity Press International, 1990, 226).

    If the "thought of Jesus" deity"-which I had been taught was the chief teaching of Christianity about Jesus-was "a relatively late arrival on the first-century stage," meaning not taught by Jesus himself, then we might legitimately wonder where it came from. The answer seems to lie in the "Imperial cult" proclaimed throughout the Roman Empire shortly before the era of Jesus, a cult which enjoined the worship of Rome and the emperor. In the words of Hugh Schonfield, a translator of the New Testament, The cult had developed in the reign of Augustus [Ceasar], who for reasons of State policy accepted deification, and authorised the building of temples in which he was worshipped. He was formally decreed Son of God (Divi Filius) by the Senate. . . .

    Gaius Caligula (A.D. 37-41) [also] became obsessed with the notion of his deity, and his sycophantic officials played up to him. . . .

    A later emperor, Domitian (A.D. 81-96), insisted that his governors commence their letters to him, "Our Lord and our God commands." It became the rule, says [the Roman historian] Suetonius, "that no one should sty
  • Re:Just Curious (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Rei (128717) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @08:23PM (#12287781) Homepage
    Sure, that works for modern xians, *most* of whom have accepted heliocentrism. However, it was a huge problem "back in the day". Many christian theologans were stunned by the images returned by Galileo's (and later, others) telescopes of Jupiter's major moons. In the telescope, they could clearly see a minature Copernican system - and, just like predicted on the Copernican model, everything moved at a speed inversely proportional to its orbital distance. It posed major theological problems for them - namely, the notion that God would create so much celestial real estate "in vain". Would God create worlds, many of them far larger than our own, in vain? It was an unthinkable concept to many, and yet, it seemed to contradict the biblical account, in which all that existed was the sun to give us day, the moon to give us light in the night, and the stars and planets to tell seasons by. Here were these worlds never even seen by humans, which served no purpose for us. In the Copernican model, there were huge worlds that existed without function to us. Our world became a small rock that was no longer the center of the universe, and it was deeply problematic. Many simply refused to believe what they could clearly see.

    Interestingly enough, Copernicus had a relatively good relationship with the church, before Galileo. The main difference between the two was that Galileo was more of a whistleblower; Copernicus did his research quietly and presented it in more of a theoretical light.
  • Very rapid decay? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Phiil (828925) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @08:47PM (#12287980) Homepage
    What exactly is it that they are implying with this quote about decay - "It also requires a very rapid decay of methane... more rapid than photochemistry would allow". As I understood it, the presence of methane was indicative of life, because you'd expect any atmospheric methan to photodissociate withina few hundred years of it - therefore there should be very little of it. They mention this abnormally rapid decay is required, but it doesn't seem at all clear why? Can anyone shed some light on this? I'm very disappointed in /. today... If I could have I'd have moderated about 90% of this whole discussion offtopic... :/
  • by iamghetto (450099) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @10:03PM (#12288580) Homepage
    Dr. Vittorio Formisano is/was the principle investigator of the Planetary Fourier Spectrometer used by European Space Agencies Mars Express probe.

    From reading the spectrometer, he believed it was evident that methane, ammonia, and formaldehyde can all be found in the martain atmosphere. Where as methane will last a few hundred years in the atmosphere, formaldehyde will only -eight- hours.

    I'm not a scientist, but from what I've read, all 3 gases are strong indicators of life. While I know that the methane could be produced by volcanic activity on Mars (as mentioned elsewhere in the thread), Mars is a geologically dead planet. There is no sign of any such activity.

    The presence of all 3 gases on a geologically dead planet would seem to be consistent with planet having some microbial life. As Mars entered its Spring, the levels of all 3 gases were found to rise as well. Of course, more life, more gas in the atmosphere.

    It was also noted that the gas levels rose sharply over Mars' frozen oceans as spring approached. Perhaps some simples forms of life were frozen in the oceans? It could also be that the frozen oceans sit over some geological vents, trapping some methane.

    But again, as far as anyone knows Mars is still a geologically dead planet.

    Sorry if this doesn't make much sense... but gas indicating life in the martian atmosphere is OLD news, and there are far more compelling gases (like formaldehyde) that exist in the atmosphere. If it only lasts for 8 hours, something there is reproducing it.

    Apparently, the only way to know definitively what is producing it, is to go dig up the soil. So... good luck on that ever happening. Apparently we have to build a base on the moon first. :)
  • by Corpus_Callosum (617295) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @10:29PM (#12288761) Homepage
    Considering the fact that he used the word "living creatures" instead of people and he clearly described vehicles and they clearly resemble flying saucers with portholes, we can safely say that if he was having a hallucination or dream, he was having one about flying saucers with non-human pilots.

    Since this occurred thousands of years ago and nothing in this dude's life could have possibly seeded his imagination in such a way as to make him hallucinate about advanced technology and non-human pilots, we can also safely say that if he did dream or hallucinate this vision then either he had seen or heard about something like this before or he was seeing the future through prescience or divine inspiration.

    Taking this a bit further, if we assume that flying saucers (let's just call them UFOs) and non-human intelligences are works of 20th century science fiction, then we are ready to draw conclusions about this dude.

    Either
    (A) Ezekiel was, through prescience or divine inspiration, having dreams, hallucinations (visions) of phenomena that does not exist, that exactly matches the UFO phenomena from 20th century science fiction and ascribing this as god

    or

    (B) Ezekiel was having dreams, hallucinations (visions) of some phenomena that was known at the time that, through pure coincidence, exactly matches the UFO phenomena from 20th century science fiction and ascribing this as god.

    or, if we assume that UFOs are real (not just science fiction)

    (C) Ezekiel was truly seeing (or having dreams or hallucinations based on his or other's experiences), real UFOs and non-human pilots and he believed them to be of god.

    or, lastly,

    (D) Ezekiel really did have a dream or hallucination of god and it is just coincidence that his view of god matches our modern view of UFOs and aliens. Which scenario makes more sense? Use Occom's razor.
  • Cows (Score:5, Interesting)

    by luna69 (529007) * on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @10:32PM (#12288789)
    A Mars researcher currently working with data from the Opportunity rover told me a couple weeks ago that he and some colleagues calculated what it would take to produce the levels of methane observed on Mars.

    Their results? Three cows. Seriously.

    I have no idea how accurate those calculations were, but he's a smart guy with more degrees than I have.
  • by Video_Wizard (830123) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @11:29PM (#12289251)
    Oil and natural gas on Mars

    John F. McGowan III, "Oil and natural gas on Mars," in Instruments, Methods, and Missions for Astrobiology III, Richard B. Hoover, Editor, Proceedings of SPIE Vol. 4137, pp. 63-74 (2000).

    Oil and Natural Gas on Mars [jmcgowan.com]

    ABSTRACT

    On Earth, according to conventional theory, the largest, by mass and volume, identifiable trace of past life is subsurface oil and natural gas deposits. Nearly all coal and oil on Earth and most sedimentary source rocks associated with coal, oil, and natural gas contain molecules of biological origin and is proof of past life. If Mars possessed an Earth-like biosphere in the past, Mars may contain subsurface deposits of oil and natural gas indicating past life. Life might still exist in these deposits. Subsurface oil and natural gas on Mars would probably cause seepage of hydrocarbon gases such as methane at favorable locations on the Martian surface. Further, if Mars contains substantial subsurface life, the most detectable signature of this life on the Martian surface would be gases generated by the life percolating up to the surface and venting into the Martian atmosphere. In this paper, systems that can detect evidence of subsurface oil and gas, including ground penetrating radar and infrared gas sensors are explored. The limitations and future prospects of infrared gas detection and imaging technologies are explored. The power, mass, and volume requirements for infrared instruments able to detect venting gases, especially methane, from an aerobot is estimated. The maximum range from the infrared sensor to the gas vent and the minimum detectable gas density or fraction of the Martian atmosphere - as appropriate for the instrument type - is estimated. The bit rate and bit error rate requirements for transmitting the data back to Earth are also estimated.

  • Biblical pi (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mktvr (593962) <muke@frath.net> on Wednesday April 20, 2005 @01:21AM (#12289839) Homepage
    Such as the value of pi?
    Sure. 1 Kings 7 (usually described as the "pi is exactly 3" text) describes a ring (the rim of a tub) with:
    • a thickness of a handbreadth (v. 26)
    • diameter from edge to edge of ten cubits (v. 23)
    • inner circumference of 30 cubits (v. 23)

    Got that? Ok.

    The inner-edge diameter is circumference/pi = 30/3.14... = 9.55... cubits

    The difference between the ring's inner edge diameter and its outer edge diameter is thus about .45 cubits; to get the thickness of the ring we divide by two (because the ring crosses the diameter twice), so .225 cubits, or about 4.05 inches, given an eighteen-inch cubit.

    Note that a handbreadth is usually defined as about four inches, so we know the numbers add up; you can take it apart and get pi from it by working backwards:

    The inner-edge diameter is equal to the outer-edge diameter minus (thickness * 2), thus 10cubits - .45 cubits(i.e., 2 handbreadths) = 9.55 cubits.

    Their value of pi would be the inner-edge circumference (30 cubits) divided by the inner-edge diameter (9.55 cubits), thus about 3.14....

    [The reading "pi is exactly three" is based on the weird idea of measuring the tub as a circle rather than a ring.] [and of course your mileage will vary based on the proportion of the cubit you use to your handbreadth, but let's gloss over that for now...]

  • by OrangeTide (124937) on Wednesday April 20, 2005 @02:55AM (#12290187) Homepage Journal
    If that happens I will either need to kill myself or apply for citizenship in a different country.

    Didn't Arnold become president in that movie, Demolition Man? Maybe it wasn't so much of a movie as a prophecy?

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