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NASA Mars Space Science

NASA May Have Killed The Martians 238

Posted by Zonk
from the that's-a-big-oopsie dept.
Sneakernets writes "CNN reports that NASA may have found life on Mars via the Viking space probes in 1976-77, but failed to recognize it and killed it by accident. Dirk Schulze-Makuch, a geology professor at Washington State University, says that Mars microbes that the space probes had found were possibly drowned and baked by accident. Other experts said the new concept is plausible, but more work is needed before they are convinced. From the article: 'A new NASA Mars mission called Phoenix is set for launch this summer, and one of the scientists involved said he is eager to test the new theory about life on Mars. However, scientists must come up with a way to do that using the mission's existing scientific instruments, said NASA astrobiologist and Phoenix co-investigator Chris McKay.'"
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NASA May Have Killed The Martians

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  • by LiquidCoooled (634315) on Sunday January 07, 2007 @10:10PM (#17503718) Homepage Journal
    That would explain why we haven't heard from K'breel or the Council of the Elders for a while :(
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by 7macaw (933316)
      May be he's off inspecting the disgusting blue planet, preparing a surprise for the nasty water-breeds.
  • by Dr. Eggman (932300) on Sunday January 07, 2007 @10:19PM (#17503780)
    (To intelligent life under his microscope)

    We come in peace!

    *Adjusts lens to get a better view*

    *Squish*
  • by Tim99 (984437) on Sunday January 07, 2007 @10:19PM (#17503782)

    This story is a total crock. Everyone knows that when you add water, you get more Martians...

    http://looneytunes.warnerbros.com/stars_of_the_sho w/marvin_the_martian/marvin_story.html [warnerbros.com]

    • by Axe (11122) on Sunday January 07, 2007 @11:14PM (#17504162)
      ..not Martians - Sea-men

      Kyle: Wow! That's a lot of seamen, Cartman.
      Cartman: Yeah, I bought all that I could at this bank, and then I got the rest from this guy Ralph in an alley.
      Stan: That's cool.
      Cartman: Yeah, and the sweet thing is, the stupid asshole didn't even charge me money for it. He just made me close my eyes and suck on a hose.

  • by Marko DeBeeste (761376) on Sunday January 07, 2007 @10:24PM (#17503834)
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by sfraggle (212671)
      This actually reminds me of the Commander Keen story, where the Vorticons are hellbent on destroying earth after the Viking space probe landed on and killed their leader.
  • by Eternal Vigilance (573501) on Sunday January 07, 2007 @10:25PM (#17503848)
    Well, at least we can learn from this sad lesson in our future missions to other sandy, desolate places. Right?

    Right?


    Lenny at NASA: "I used to have a little friend, but he don't move no more."
  • old video (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hennell (1005107) on Sunday January 07, 2007 @10:28PM (#17503858) Homepage
    This is rather similar to what I thought when I was watching a video at school once. The video claimed their was no life on Mars (Or any other planet for that matter) because they lacked the key conditions life needs. The lack of water, or stable temperature or decent atmosphere etc were all touted as being proof that life couldn't exist on these planets.

    My immediate thought was Why are we deciding all life is the same here? There are different species on the earth who need different amounts of things, Just because we all need water and a regular-ish temperature doesn't make potential alien life follow that rule. This scientist seems to be agreeing with me. Which is more then my teacher did at the time.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by veganboyjosh (896761)
      star trek had an episode similar to this, altho they didn't kill the life form. someone else will have to help with the details, but i do remember that the crew scanned the planet and found no life, which later they had to revise as "no carbon based life found". this issue has bothered me as well, when i hear that planets/environments are hostile to life. of course they might be hostile to our kind of life, but who knows what the hell is out there?
      • star trek had an episode similar to this, altho they didn't kill the life form. someone else will have to help with the details...
        I believe that's the "Devil in the Dark" episode. Miners accidentally destroy some alien eggs thinking they're just rocks. Silicon-based mummy alien gets mad and starts harrassing the mining operation until Spock works out that they're dealing with sentient life and the apologies start flowing.
      • It's life Jim (Score:5, Informative)

        by TapeCutter (624760) on Monday January 08, 2007 @12:16AM (#17504538) Journal
        We have found many new and oddball extremophiles over the last few decades living right here on Earth in places that were once considered impossibly "hostile to life". This has resulted in a tree of life [wikipedia.org] with many more branches than the animal, plant and fungi ones I was taught at high school.

        The three "essential ingredients" for life now seem to be carbon, water and energy but we haven't finished searching the planet yet, let alone our solar system and beyond.

        To summerize: "It's life Jim, but not as we know it".
      • by calyxa (618266)
        Star Trek: The Next Generation -- _Home Soil_

        The planet was being terraformed, but the intelligent crystal beings that lived in the thin layer of water under the sand re-programmed the laser drill and killed at least one of them.

        My favorite quote from that episode:

        "Ugly bags of mostly water"

        That's how the "micro-brain" referred to the humans. At my job not long after that episode aired, I was in the break room with a cow-orker and opened up the drawer to find the instant coffee packs. I held one up and sa
    • Re:old video (Score:5, Informative)

      by lawpoop (604919) on Sunday January 07, 2007 @11:45PM (#17504362) Homepage Journal
      There are two things here.

      First, there is an 'energy' definition of life. That is to say, alien life may not be carbon-based, may not use water, may not be composed of cells, and may not have DNA inside of it. However, one of the defining characteristics of life is that it uses energy. It metabolizes, grows, and reproduces. It eats something, somehow. It makes a waste product.

      So, if we look at a planet's chemical composition, we can make a good guess as to whether there is life there by looking at its chemistry. If there are living things there, they will be making reactive chemicals. From outer space, we could tell that the Earth has a lot of metabolic activity in it, because the sky is mostly highly reactive oxygen that is a result of plant respiration. Mars, on the other hand, is mostly chemically inert. There is very little metabolism going on there, if there is any at all. Either life there has already eaten up the planet, or else there wasn't enough resource to really get started, or there was never life at all.

      Secondly, let's talk about a scenario where life can really only happen with water and organic ( meaning carbon-containing ) compounds. What conditions are necessary for life? What conditions does life thrive in? Take the Earth as an example. Where do we find the greatest mass and biodiversity? In the oceans. Ocean water is practically alive itself, there is so much life in it. On land, the places with the greatest biomass and biodiversity are the rainforests, where they have near 100% humidity. So water as a medium seem to really grow and reproduce. What temperature range do we find the most life in? About 70-90 degrees F -- I'm talking about the *most* life. So the metabolism of life forms seems to function optimally at 70-90 F.

      The point I'm trying to make is that yes, we do find life in weird places on Earth -- inside solid rock, in 200 degree sulfuric vents on the ocean floor, inside nuclear reactor cores. However, there isn't very much of it in terms of biomass, and there's not much diversity of forms. My guess is that those 'extremophiles' are descendants of creatures who lived in more hospital environments and became adapted to increasingly extreme environments. I don't think that life originated in rocks or in ocean vents. I think life originated in an environment that is most like where we find the greatest biomass and biodiversity -- water in sunlight at about 60-120 F.

      If we're not talking about the above scenarios, we are getting away from materialism, and thus science. This might include "Imagine beings of pure energy" (hey, atoms are 'pure energy') or "What if the sun is conscious?" ( well, we can't measure consciousness *yet* so we can't tell scientifically ) These are fun to think about, but scientifically they are kind of a non-starter.

      I understand what you're saying about thinking outside the box, expecting the unexpected, and not limiting our minds or our past experiences. But science puts some serious restraints on what we can imagine or postulate *scientifically*.
      • by Tablizer (95088)
        From outer space, we could tell that the Earth has a lot of metabolic activity in it, because the sky is mostly highly reactive oxygen that is a result of plant respiration. Mars, on the other hand, is mostly chemically inert.

        But small amounts of methane have been detected around Mars, which is a possible result of respiration.

        we do find life in weird places on Earth -- inside solid rock, in 200 degree sulfuric vents on the ocean floor, inside nuclear reactor cores. However, there isn't very much of it i
      • by Rakishi (759894)
        I think life originated in an environment that is most like where we find the greatest biomass and biodiversity -- water in sunlight at about 60-120 F. ...and amazingly enough Mars was probably a much more hospitable place in the past. So thank you for your argument supporting of potential life on Mars.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by jlowery (47102)

        My guess is that those 'extremophiles' are descendants of creatures who lived in more hospital environments and became adapted to increasingly extreme environments. I don't think that life originated in rocks or in ocean vents. I think life originated in an environment that is most like where we find the greatest biomass and biodiversity -- water in sunlight at about 60-120 F.

        Except that life originated in an anaerobic environment: oxygen was not a significant component of Earth's atmosphere for hundreds of millions of years after life began. When oxygen did increase, the atmosphere became inhospitable to those early organisms.

        We find a large amount of biodiversity in (now) hospitable environments because of chlorophyl: early plant-like organisms evolved a way to produce energy from sunlight and carbon dioxide. The waste product was oxygen, which still newer organisms were

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by SinGunner (911891)
        "Take the Earth as an example..."

        You can't take the Earth as an "example" of how life works on other planets when there isn't life on other planets. It's like saying, "all universes work this way because ours does". Or "look, I was able dodge getting shot once, I am the One!!"

      • by vtcodger (957785)
        ***From outer space, we could tell that the Earth has a lot of metabolic activity in it, because the sky is mostly highly reactive oxygen that is a result of plant respiration. Mars, on the other hand, is mostly chemically inert. There is very little metabolism going on there, if there is any at all. Either life there has already eaten up the planet, or else there wasn't enough resource to really get started, or there was never life at all.***

        Sounds pretty plausible until you remember that life on Earth h

      • by beuges (613130)

        First, there is an 'energy' definition of life. That is to say, alien life may not be carbon-based, may not use water, may not be composed of cells, and may not have DNA inside of it. However, one of the defining characteristics of life is that it uses energy. It metabolizes, grows, and reproduces. It eats something, somehow. It makes a waste product.

        This is something that's always puzzled me - by this definition, wouldn't Fire be considered a life-form?

        It uses energy, in the form of wood/gasoline/other fue

        • Re:old video (Score:4, Insightful)

          by ceoyoyo (59147) on Monday January 08, 2007 @10:35AM (#17508622)
          Life also acts against entropy. You take in simple molecules and synthesize them into more complicated ones and arrange them in ordered structures. Fire (burning wood) takes those ordered structures and breaks them down into minimum energy molecules.
      • However, one of the defining characteristics of life is that it uses energy. It metabolizes, grows, and reproduces. It eats something, somehow. It makes a waste product. So, if we look at a planet's chemical composition, we can make a good guess as to whether there is life there by looking at its chemistry. If there are living things there, they will be making reactive chemicals.

        Uh ? There seems to be a non-sequitur here. Living organisms consume free energy, they do not create it (in a strict, global sens
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by smoker2 (750216)
        You talk about science and then ignore the facts !

        From outer space, we could tell that the Earth has a lot of metabolic activity in it, because the sky is mostly highly reactive oxygen that is a result of plant respiration.

        Actually, the "sky" or atmosphere (as scientists call it) is mostly Nitrogen. Only around 20% is oxygen. Link. [mmu.ac.uk]

        Ocean water is practically alive itself, there is so much life in it. On land, the places with the greatest biomass and biodiversity are the rainforests, where they have near 1

    • "Why are we deciding all life is the same here?"

      Arthur C Clarke wrote a story about that called Report on Planet Three, in which the Martians establish beyond doubt that life on Earth is impossible due to the corrosive oxygen in our atmosphere, high temperature, etc.
  • NASA may have found life on Mars via the Viking space probes in 1976-77, but failed to recognize it and killed it by accident.

    Small consolation for the millions of affected microbes.
    • by jo7hs2 (884069)
      "Small consolation for the millions of affected microbes.[..]

      That you just killed typing that message. And that you will now kill after realizing how disgusting your keyboard is. /There, fixed that for you.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by R3d M3rcury (871886)

      Small consolation for the millions of affected microbes.
      Won't somebody think of the microbes?!
  • Well (Score:4, Funny)

    by jaymzru (1005177) on Sunday January 07, 2007 @10:33PM (#17503886)
    I've seen "Mars Attacks!" Better them than us.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 07, 2007 @10:33PM (#17503890)
    This same article was on digg a while back, so I've read it already.

    The title implies that NASA killed off all of the martians, while the article says that if Viking had found a few martian microbes in its sample, it would have killed those.

    There's no need for the sensationalism.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Prof.Phreak (584152)
      The title implies that NASA killed off all of the martians

      Unless all of martian life was conviniently located in just that sample, and nowhere else.
      • by Jugalator (259273)
        Yes, that would've been bad assuming they were exactly there, assuming there was life, and assuming it was killed.

        Gotta lova articles like these!
  • Well, (Score:5, Funny)

    by ampathee (682788) on Sunday January 07, 2007 @10:41PM (#17503958)
    I for one, welcome our new Martian- oops.. Nevermind.
  • by bmo (77928) on Sunday January 07, 2007 @10:44PM (#17503972)
    "I feel a great disturbanc in the Force, as if billions of microbes cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced"

    --
    BMO
    • > I feel a great disturbance in the Force, as if billions of microbes cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

      They're midichlorians, you insensitive clod! :]
  • by Karl Cocknozzle (514413) <kcocknozzle@hotm ... com minus author> on Sunday January 07, 2007 @10:55PM (#17504026) Homepage
    "He's dead, Jim..."
  • Earth (Score:4, Funny)

    by reset_button (903303) on Sunday January 07, 2007 @10:56PM (#17504036)
    Mostly harmless
  • Seems that no one can follow the stupid thing.
  • by cirby (2599)
    ...they don't have a microphone on the lander.

    That way, all they have to do is run the same tests, and listen for millions of tiny little screams.
  • by davros-too (987732) on Sunday January 07, 2007 @11:21PM (#17504220) Homepage
    From TFA: "Given the cold dry conditions of Mars, life could have evolved on Mars with the key internal fluid consisting of a mix of water and hydrogen peroxide, said Schulze-Makuch."

    The important point is that a new possibility for the nature of life on Mars has been suggested. If there is any life in this form it would not have been detected by previous experiements. This is interesting because it keeps open the possibility of what would be the greatest discovery ever - life on another planet. The minor point that the testing process could have killed the specific bacteria it sampled is - apart from the obligatory jokes - totally irellevant.
    • It is very difficult to devise experiments for distant probes because they cannot adapt experiments to previous findings from themselves very well. The only real way to know if there is life is to take samples back to a well-equiped manned lab with top microscopes. The problem is the risk of contaminating the whole planet. It is small, but well worth preventing. This leaves an in-orbit or moon lab. That way if the astronaut scientists find bad stuff, they are quarenteened in space. This is the *real* use fo
  • by jpellino (202698) on Sunday January 07, 2007 @11:23PM (#17504226)
    ... of old objections with a slight new twist about peroxides.

    Back in the 70's the results of the "chicken soup" (gas exchange) experiment on board the Vikings were frustratingly inconclusive - the resulting single release of gas when combining martian soil with a mixture of likely nutrients could have been produced by several mechanisms: (1) a simple chemical reaction between the soil sample and the "soup", or (2) the death rattles of an organism poisoned by the "soup" or (3) the initial metabolic release of (an) organism(s) that ate itself to death like a goldfish on the nutrient "soup".

  • by djupedal (584558) on Sunday January 07, 2007 @11:25PM (#17504250)
    "..failed to recognize it and killed it by accident"

    I seem to recall Cheney using a similar excuse when he shotgunned a hunting partner in his ass...
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by haapi (16700)
      Unless his partner was suffering from rectal-cranial inversion, the blast was to his face.
      • by djupedal (584558)
        That's what the press release(s) said - once the White House spin machine got hold of it, and someone noticed that 'historectioptimy' was too long for the average American to grasp & that neither 'arse' nor 'butt' was the right way to spell 'face', history took yet another slight left turn and viola...story now garners sympathy rather than guffawpathy.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by thedarknite (1031380)
      I could have sworn Cheney shot an 87 year old man in the face.
  • That's what you get for sending a robot to do a man's job. Let's quit futzing around with probes, and put a properly equipped science team on the planet.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Tablizer (95088)
      That's what you get for sending a robot to do a man's job. Let's quit futzing around with probes, and put a properly equipped science team on the planet.

      Got a half trillion bucks laying around? Or did you blow it on a dumb war again?

      Seriously, if the goal is to detect life, probes are still far cheaper. A sample return mission can relatively easily be carried out by remote control probably at about 1/5 to 1/10 the cost of a manned mission per rock.
           
  • Oh my god, they killed Kenny. You bastards!
  • by the_mind_ (157933) on Sunday January 07, 2007 @11:53PM (#17504412)
    What did they expect when they named it "Viking"?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Tablizer (95088)
      What did they expect when they named it "Viking"?

      Because Rape II, Pillager 4, and Plunder 7 all failed during landing.
           
  • by MavEtJu (241979) <slashdot@@@mavetju...org> on Sunday January 07, 2007 @11:57PM (#17504438) Homepage
    From the article:

    Good reporting:

    The Viking space probes of 1976-77 were looking for the wrong kind of life, so they didn't recognize it, a geology professor at Washington State University said.

    Sensationatilism:

    Two NASA space probes that visited Mars 30 years ago may have found alien microbes on the Red Planet and inadvertently killed them, a scientist is theorizing.

    To show how full of crap it is:

    Schulze-Makuch acknowledges he can't prove that Martian microbes exist, but given the Martian environment and how evolution works, "it makes sense."

    So if there are microbes left, NASA was lucky, and if there are none, NASA has killed them all.
    And if there are microbes, Schulze-Makuch is happy because NASA didn't kill them all and his name is in history again, while if there are none, it would be exactly how Schulze-Makuch had predicted it!
  • by starfire-1 (159960) on Sunday January 07, 2007 @11:59PM (#17504450)
    In the 1970's, comedian Don Novello (of Father Guido Sarducci fame) wrote a book called the "Lazlo Lettets" where he would write tongue in cheek letters to a wide variety of people and places like the President, Hotels, and of course NASA. His alter ego Lazlo Toth observered that if NASA were to scoop up martian soil and burn it to find life, that NASA would have more appropriately found life, but killed it so they wouldn't be able to actually prove that life still existed. I don't recall the content what NASA's response letter.

    I love it when comedians get these things right ahead of time.

    P.S. Another example at the Onion. http://www.theonion.com/content/node/33930 [theonion.com] saw the new Fusion with six blades coming way back in Feb 2004!
    • by CptNerd (455084)

      I love it when comedians get these things right ahead of time.

      P.S. Another example at the Onion. http://www.theonion.com/content/node/33930 [theonion.com] saw the new Fusion with six blades coming way back in Feb 2004!

      And Saturday Night Live "commercial" back in '76 or so: "The new Triple Trak: Because you'll believe anything!"
  • a lot of sci-fi films start this way.... then bad thing happen
  • And I had to try to tag the article "metricmartians". Because if they were "englishstandardunitsmartians", they might have gotten it right.
  • 30-year-old news (Score:5, Informative)

    by moosesocks (264553) on Monday January 08, 2007 @01:11AM (#17504876) Homepage
    Debate [wikipedia.org] over the validity of the biological experiments on the Viking probes has been going on since the probes landed.

    You see.... several of the biological experiments on Viking turned up positive. However, this result contradicted other components of the same experiment, which indicated that there were no organic molecules in the soil, among other factors, making the possibility of life existing in those soil samples remotely minute.

    It was largely agreed upon that the experiments were inconclusive and poorly designed all the way back in the 80s. The fact that this guy is making this argument about an experiment that yielded a false-positive is somewhat absurd. The bits of the experiment that turned up negative would have hypothetically yielded the same result on a living organism as a dead one.

    The ill-fated Beagle 2 [wikipedia.org] probe was supposed to repeat/confirm several of the Viking experiments.

    Of course, that's not to say that we shouldn't be reproducing these experiments to figure out what went wrong, and what produced the false positive, as I'm sure there's plenty of interesting science to be explored there as well. I wouldn't completely rule out the possibility of life on mars either -- as mentioned earlier, the experiments were inconclusive.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by gremlinuk (454089)
      Of course, it is entirely possible (to take a Devil's Advocate position), that the negative results were the 'false' ones, and the positive results the correct ones. To borrow from an archaeologist: 'A lack of evidence isn't evidence of a lack.'
  • The guy was probably drunk when he was doing the research.

    For those of you just tuning in, WSU is a well-known drinking school. People wear sweatshirts that say, "Our Drinking Team Has a Football Problem." And their football team has its share of problems, too: They lost to the UW Huskies when the latter was having a horrible year. This proves, of course, that the Cougars are still the Cougars.
  • Is it too hard to put a microscope on one of these landers? The rovers has a close up camera.
  • by suv4x4 (956391)
    You can be sure the probes brought some microorganisms to Mars...

    And given microorganisms are quite more resilient, than, say, mammals, who knows. Those probes might begin the life on Mars, if there wasn't any.

    If you follow how nature works, there's only one thing to know: life will push and proliferate in incredible ways, if given the chance. The probes could've been enough of a chance.
    • So, if I read this right, all we need to do is to collect the unwashed coffee cups that have had a chance to germinate over the weekend, put them in a space probe and send them off?

      That'll save NASA some budget :-)
  • This reminds me of the short story "A Sound of Thunder" by Ray Bradbury.

    http://www.onebee.com/media/PDF/A_Sound_of_Thunder -Ray_Bradbury.pdf [onebee.com]
  • "The chances of anything coming from Earth, are a million to one they said..."
  • by Zaatxe (939368)
    I thought that the roovers had landed on some and then runned over the rest.

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