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Mars Space Science

Mars Site May Hold 'Buried Life' 63

Posted by kdawson
from the is-that-calcium-carbonate-or-are-you-just-glad-to-see-me dept.
sridharo sends in a report from the BBC that researchers have identified ancient rocks from Nili Fossae that could contain fossilized remains of life. These rocks are very similar to Pilbara rocks in northwest Australia. The rocks are estimated to be up to four billion years old, which means they have been around for three-quarters of the history of Mars. "[Many] scientists had hoped that they would soon have the opportunity to get much closer to these rocks. Nili Fossae was put forward as a potential landing site for NASA's ambitious new rover, the Mars Science Laboratory, which will be launched in 2011. ... But Nilae Fossae was eventually deemed too dangerous a landing site and it was finally removed from the list in June of this year." The research, led by a scientist from the SETI Institute, was published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.
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Mars Site May Hold 'Buried Life'

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  • SETI? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Friday July 30, 2010 @10:26AM (#33082520)
    When did SETI become interested in fossils?
  • Re:SETI? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MoriT (1747802) on Friday July 30, 2010 @10:29AM (#33082570)
    When they started grasping at straws.
  • Re:SETI? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AndyAndyAndyAndy (967043) <afacini&gmail,com> on Friday July 30, 2010 @10:31AM (#33082614)

    Perhaps looking at fossilized life (and specifically where it once occured) will help SETI narrow down that huge scope in looking for still-active life.

  • by Palestrina (715471) * on Friday July 30, 2010 @10:36AM (#33082686) Homepage

    It sounds more like this: If there was life on Mars, then these rocks remind someone of rocks in Australia that preserved evidence of early life on Earth.

    This does not imply by any means that the existence of these rocks raises the probability that there was life on Mars.

    Compare: We discovered life on Earth in a red rock. We found red rocks on Mars, therefore they might be hiding evidence of life! Or not...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 30, 2010 @10:44AM (#33082828)

    These mars probes are super cheap in the global scheme of things. You can pay for them with a few hours of the cash outflow we spend on middle east wars or on wasteful entitlement programs - and in fact possibly even less, since producing the 2nd is cheaper than the 1st. Instead of building 1 or 2, we should build 20, and drop them down in interesting places. Some will land on a boulder and never be heard from again, but some will also luck out and we'll have them in more scientifically interesting places.

  • Re:Let me know (Score:5, Insightful)

    by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Friday July 30, 2010 @10:46AM (#33082860)

    May, might, maybe. I am optimistic, but let me know when they actually find life and not every speculation someone has each day.

    That may be all you are interested in, but if we all ignored everything until it was confirmed then nothing would ever be done. Granted the headline is WILDLY optimistic and on that I agree with you, since what was proposed was merely to investigate a site which is expected to have fossils if there were ever life to make those fossils.

    Even still this is a necessary part of what science IS.

    Observations were made.
    A Hypothesis was formed.
    Tests were proposed.

    Learning about what was suggested and planned for those steps is something that interests a great number of people here.

  • by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Friday July 30, 2010 @10:49AM (#33082912)

    Compare: We discovered life on Earth in a red rock. We found red rocks on Mars, therefore they might be hiding evidence of life! Or not...

    Isn't it more like saying:

    If there were life on Mars, based on our experience on Earth in looking at similar formations, these rock formations seem to be the most likely to have preserved evidence of past life.

  • Re:SETI? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Friday July 30, 2010 @10:49AM (#33082928) Homepage
    Just because someone works for SETI doesn't mean they can't do related research about exobiology. This is especially the case because if we discover actual extraterrestrial life, even microbial life, the chance of SETI being successful goes way up. And as we find out more, we get a better idea what sort of star systems to look for for life or intelligent life.
  • Re:SETI? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dr.newton (648217) on Friday July 30, 2010 @10:55AM (#33083012) Homepage

    I don't find it surprising that the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute would be interested in signs of life on another planet.

    That's kind of the point of the organization, isn't it?

  • by AhabTheArab (798575) on Friday July 30, 2010 @11:01AM (#33083118) Homepage

    I'm sure I'd like to see this happen just as much as you, but there's a couple problems. For one, NASA does have a limited budget. It may not be expensive for our country to build twenty of these, but it is expensive for NASA. We (as a nation) just don't value space exploration enough, which is sad.

    The other problem is putting your eggs in the same basket. With each new rover we send, we can draw from lessons learned from past rover missions and improve them. What if all twenty had a fatal flaw that we didn't discover until it was too late? What if there was some instruments/capabilities that would be beneficial to have on them, but didn't know they would come in handy until after they landed? I would love to see a more aggressive space program. Although, it seems better for us to launch one rover every year for five years (each of which presumably more capable than the last), than to launch five all at once every five years.

  • Re:SETI? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 30, 2010 @11:02AM (#33083124)

    Just because someone works for SETI doesn't mean they can't do related research about exobiology. This is especially the case because if we discover actual extraterrestrial life, even microbial life, the chance of SETI being successful goes way up. And as we find out more, we get a better idea what sort of star systems to look for for life or intelligent life.

    Clearly the government's approach to confirming that there is intelligent extraterrestrial and/or extradimensional alien life with which they have been in contact is to do so in baby steps. First it's maybe extraterrestrial life is possible but it'd be too far away to ever get to us. Then it's maybe Mars once had water. Then it's maybe that rock from Mars that impacted earth had remains of microbes but we can't tell for sure. Now it's a Mars site that may hold buried life. Yeah, they like to do this in baby steps.

  • Re:SETI? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MightyMartian (840721) on Friday July 30, 2010 @11:31AM (#33083648) Journal

    I don't think there's anything covert or nefarious about it. A few decades ago, before we had a good handle on organisms like extremophiles, it was assumed that life had, even on Earth, a tentative grip, that there was only this exceedingly narrow band of conditions that could produce life, and that any world that fell outside that was very likely barren. In the last couple of decades our understanding of organisms that can survive in an incredibly hostile environments, not to mention the discovery of a lot of carbon compounds even in deep space, has opened up the possibility that maybe all you need is water (or maybe even ammonia), carbon and energy. Beyond that, our understanding of Mars has greatly increased, and we've pretty much confirmed in multiple ways that, whatever the state of the planet now, at one time it was volcanically active and had open bodies of water, conditions not so different from Earth.

  • by JeffAtl (1737988) on Friday July 30, 2010 @12:51PM (#33085174)

    It was all about beating the Soviets. The world had learned in WWII that air superiority is the key to winning a war and space superiority was considered to be the next step.

    Sputnik scared the hell out of the western world. This allowed NASA to be more aggressive and take risks that would not be acceptable in today's social climate so progress was made at a pace quick enough to excite the public.

    The public also had an unrealistic idea of space as well - they expected day trips on a TWA shuttle to colonies on the moon, venus and mars within 20 years.

    The worst thing to happen to NASA and manned space travel was the failure of the Soviets to reach the moon soon after the US did.

  • by fifedrum (611338) on Friday July 30, 2010 @02:38PM (#33086738) Journal

    but you have to address the "why" of sputnik scare and the space race in general. Putting Sputnik in orbit meant the Soviets could drop a nuke anywhere on the planet. They might not get through with bombers, but there's no stopping it from dropping out of orbit onto your home town in Nebraska.

    Every rocket used in the space race up-to but not including Saturn V was a nuclear missile adopted to accept a human crew.

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