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New Study Suggests Mars Viking Robots Found Life 172

Posted by samzenpus
from the it's-alive-alive dept.
techfun89 writes "New analysis of data, now 36 years old, from the Viking robots, suggests that NASA had found life on Mars. This conclusion was published by an international team of mathematicians and scientists this week. The Labeled Release experiment looked for signs of microbial metabolism in soil samples in 1976. The general thinking was that the experiment had found geological not biological activity. However, the new study approached things differently. Researchers broke the data into sets of numbers and analyzed the results for complexity. What they found were close correlations between the Viking results' complexity and those of terrestrial biological data sets. Based on this they concluded that the Viking results were more biological in nature than just geological processes."
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New Study Suggests Mars Viking Robots Found Life

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  • by Rhaban (987410) on Friday April 13, 2012 @08:12AM (#39671771)

    I didn't even know vikings had robots here on earth!

  • by way2trivial (601132) on Friday April 13, 2012 @08:14AM (#39671793) Homepage Journal

    to loosen up a few dollars to the space program.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by crazyjj (2598719) *

      NASA is too busy these days arguing about climate change and Muslim outreach to bother with anything as mundane as a space program.

      • Recovery (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mdsolar (1045926)
        Seems to me that it is recovering from eight years of misdirection. The former administration's micromanagement made a huge mess.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by jesseck (942036)

          Seems to me that it is recovering from eight years of misdirection. The former administration's micromanagement made a huge mess.

          Huh? So the former administration's micromanagement told NASA to cause climate change and ignore Muslims?

          • by mdsolar (1045926)
            No, they screwed up confidence in NASA science by using censorship, messed up the review process for manned space flight, and pushed for underbidding for JWST leaving an unnecessary competition between science missions. NASA needs to recover now by strongly backing its people such as Jim Hansen, enforcing fiscal discipline in bidding so that budget requests can be realistic, and sadly, go back to the drawing board on heavy lift. They were not just eight wasted years, they were eight years of retrograde mo
  • Somehow, I'm guessing that since this isn't a discussion of ID, we won't be hearing that "complexity" is meaningless and undefinable...

    But, out of curiosity, what is the metric of complexity here? The article seems to only give synonyms, like "complicated".

    • Re:"Complexity"? (Score:5, Informative)

      by julesh (229690) on Friday April 13, 2012 @08:22AM (#39671857)

      Paper is available for open access here: http://ijass.org/On_line/admin/files/2)(014-026)11-030.pdf [ijass.org]

      Haven't read it yet, but they seem to have analysed with multiple definitions of complexity.

      • Abstract (Score:5, Informative)

        by mdsolar (1045926) on Friday April 13, 2012 @08:53AM (#39672081) Homepage Journal
        Complexity Analysis of the Viking Labeled Release Experiments

        Giorgio Bianciardi, Joseph D. Miller, Patricia Ann Straat and Gilbert V. Levin

        The only extraterrestrial life detection experiments ever conducted were the three which were components of the 1976 Viking Mission to Mars. Of these, only the Labeled Release experiment obtained a clearly positive response. In this experiment 14 C radiolabeled nutrient was added to the Mars soil samples. Active soils exhibited rapid, substantial gas release. The gas was probably CO2 and, possibly, other radiocarbon-containing gases. We have applied complexity analysis to the Viking LR data. Measures of mathematical complexity permit deep analysis of data structure along continua including signal vs. noise, entropy vs.negentropy, periodicity vs. aperiodicity, order vs. disorder etc. We have employed seven complexity variables, all derived from LR data, to show that Viking LR active responses can be distinguished from controls via cluster analysis and other multivariate techniques. Furthermore, Martian LR active response data cluster with known biological time series while the control data cluster with purely physical measures. We conclude that the complexity pattern seen in active experiments strongly suggests biology while the different pattern in the control responses is more likely to be non-biological. Control responses that exhibit relatively low initial order rapidly devolve into near-random noise, while the active experiments exhibit higher initial order which decays only slowly. This suggests a robust biological response. These analyses support the interpretation that the Viking LR experiment did detect extant microbial life on Mars.
      • by gardyloo (512791)

        THANK you for that link. I'll try to read the thing this afternoon. I want to find out which metrics they ended up using!

    • by crazyjj (2598719) *

      we won't be hearing that "complexity" is meaningless and undefinable

      It's that thing just above "incomplexity" of course.

  • To boldly stay away (Score:2, Informative)

    by arth1 (260657)

    Time to invoke the prime directive and leave it alone.

    Seriously, if this were true, it means we should restrict visits to Mars. Not only to have a chance to study evolving life over the next aeons, but also so we won't drag back something.
    .

    • by MrMickS (568778)

      No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable.

    • by FunkDup (995643) on Friday April 13, 2012 @08:32AM (#39671913)
      If there's life on Mars, it probably originated here [technologyreview.com]

      Their results contain a number of surprises. First, they calculate that almost as much ejecta would have ended up on Europa as on the Moon: around 10^8 individual Earth rocks in some scenarios. That's because the huge gravitational field around Jupiter acts as a sink for rocks, which then get swept up by the Jovian moons as they orbit. But perhaps most surprising is the amount that makes its way across interstellar space. Last year, we looked at calculations suggesting that more Earth ejecta must end up in interstellar space than all the other planets combined.

      • Bullshit, everyone knows that life on Earth was seeded by The Preservers [wikipedia.org].
      • by arth1 (260657)

        If there's life on Mars, it probably originated here

        That doesn't mean it is compatible with life here - a lot changes in millions of years, under very different conditions. Just look at Australia or Madagascar to see how much things can change in just a short time span. Or compare deep water exhaust bacteria to fungus and virus.
        If our planet contaminated Mars with life in the past, that doesn't make it any less interesting, nor less dangerous.

      • by doconnor (134648)

        Ejecta goes in both directions. Life could have originated on Mars and then traveled to Earth, especially since Mars would have been habitable sooner because it was smaller and cooler.

        The real implication is that life could have originated in another solar system and has been bouncing around the galaxy for billions of years.

      • by RockDoctor (15477)

        If there's life on Mars, it is not impossible that it originated here

        FTFY

        I hate it when a perfectly reasonable discussion of a possibility (the article you cite) gets reported and then remembered as "this and only this is the only possible thing that could have happened." That is not what the authors said, and is not what the scientific community believes. But it probably makes for more interesting reporting, so that makes such distortions acceptable?

        Not in my book.

        Is this a "news for nerds" site, o

    • by mdsolar (1045926)
      Not really. Bringing it back would allow closer study. It is nothing that hasn't landed here before owing to martian meteors, but an isolated sample could be checked for divergence from Earth life and give a check on how life disperses in the solar system.
      • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

        Not really. Bringing it back would allow closer study. It is nothing that hasn't landed here before owing to martian meteors, but an isolated sample could be checked for divergence from Earth life and give a check on how life disperses in the solar system.

        Of course, bacteria arriving via a martian meteor would be subject to extremely high temperatures and effectively sterilized before impact. Coming back in via a capsule of some sort could pose a number of risks to various indigenous species on earth. It would make much more sense, and be a lot more cost effective to send the equipment to mars and run whatever tests are needed there, versus designing a craft to transport a collection vehicle that can then launch from the surface and return home.

        • by mdsolar (1045926)
          You are aware that meteors land cold right? Thermal conductivity does not permit the heating you are proposing. Sample return from the Moon proved very valuable. I'd expect the same from Mars.
          • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

            You are aware that meteors land cold right? Thermal conductivity does not permit the heating you are proposing. Sample return from the Moon proved very valuable. I'd expect the same from Mars.

            They may land cold, but they sure get hot as they go through the atmosphere, where most of them burn up before ever reaching ground. Look at it this way, the space shuttle also landed "cold" but as we we tragically found out, it got pretty hot before the actual landing.

            • by Chris Burke (6130) on Friday April 13, 2012 @11:22AM (#39673933) Homepage

              They may land cold, but they sure get hot as they go through the atmosphere, where most of them burn up before ever reaching ground. Look at it this way, the space shuttle also landed "cold" but as we we tragically found out, it got pretty hot before the actual landing.

              Yes and those are small. A large meteor will have some of its surface ablated, but most of the meteor, particularly the interior, will be cool. There simply isn't enough time as the meteor falls for the heat to spread. That which survives to the ground will be cool enough to touch in most cases.

              Similarly, in a normal space shuttle re-entry only the leading surface (the ceramic as in stone tiles) was heated, while the rest of the shuttle remained a comfortable temperature. It was only when that leading surface was compromised and the pressure-heated air was able to enter the interior structure which was fragile that it caused a problem.

              So unless the meteor is a ceramic shell with a fragile interior, this isn't a problem.

            • by RockDoctor (15477)
              Guys - in the sky or in space, it's a meteor ; if it lands, it's a meteorite. (Words have definitions, for a reason.)

              Meteors don't land - by definition. Meteorites land cold on their interiors, though their outermost couple of mm may be highly heated.

              If we're talking about panspermia, don't forget that the organisms that survive are going to be the ones that have the most shielding from cosmic radiation during their wandering through space. So that means that the organisms in the outer few mm of any parti

    • Time to invoke the prime directive and leave it alone.

      Seriously, if this were true, it means we should restrict visits to Mars. Not only to have a chance to study evolving life over the next aeons, but also so we won't drag back something. .

      Yeah, like we left the Sandwich Islands alone after Cook visited, or the Americas after Columbus.

      It's Manifest Destiny man, sure, we'll get a little bloody fighting the natives, but Mars is prime dirt, ripe for the taking - at least it is compared to Venus, Mercury or the moons of Jupiter.

      Longer term, I think Venus is the more attractive terraforming target - more solar energy and atmosphere to work with, it's (relatively) easy to make a sun-shade, and we should be able to seed some extremophiles on Venus a

    • by RockDoctor (15477)

      Not only to have a chance to study evolving life over the next aeons

      Unfortunately, given what we know about the geological history of the planet, the conditions for life are steadily getting harder and harder. Most likely, if we did find a life form on Mars (please note the "if" there!) and we took no steps to secure a sample, then over aeons (thousands of millions of years) we'd almost certainly watch it die out.

      Having said that, the Earth probably only has around an aeon left as a habitable planet. So a

  • by giorgist (1208992) on Friday April 13, 2012 @08:27AM (#39671883)
    "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence"

    So although the data is amazing we need correlation, cross referencing, independent data gathering and ... well a local saying hello der ...
  • Full Paper Link (Score:5, Informative)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Friday April 13, 2012 @08:31AM (#39671905) Journal
    A little bit of googling led me to a PDF of the full published paper [ijass.org] if anyone's interested.
  • by mbone (558574) on Friday April 13, 2012 @08:45AM (#39672005)

    Each Viking Lander had 3 biological experiments, for a total of 6.

    I worked on Viking (but not on the biological experiments), and before the mission landed I received a bunch of NASA PR type hype, including the protocols for the biological experiments. These were each (at a very high level) of the same form -

    - collect a soil sample
    - add something to it (such as water or nutrients)
    - see what happens

    and, as a control, repeat this with another sample after "sterilizing" it (by heating it).

    At the one bit level, a successful biological result would be something positive happens to the active sample, the same something doesn't happen to the control.

    The biological experimental protocols did not mention the mass spectrometer at all.

    In the actual case, each biological experiment (all 6) returned a positive result for biology "at the one bit level." The Labeled Release (LR) experiment was more or less what they were expecting, the other 2 experiments (in each case) did something, just not what was expected. In every case, the control runs had a much smaller or no reaction.

    I, following this, actually expected the Viking project to announce that life had probably been found, with positive (if not fully understood) results from the 6 biological trials. Instead, they announced a negative result, based on not finding organic matter with the mass spectrometer. The conclusion was that the positive results were due to some (unknown, and still unknown) inorganic chemistry of the surface, which went over like a wet balloon.

    To this day, I feel this was a violation of the pre-launch protocols for the biological experiments. If the mass spectrometer trumped all, why fly the biologicals? If the biological experiments were worth doing, why were they not worth investigating further? Gilbert Levin (the Labeled Release experiment PI), for example, has always felt that the LR experiment detected biology [spherix.com]. Is that not worthy of a followup ?

    Instead, this was announced in such a fashion as to make it as uninteresting as possible and the Mars science budget was cut to the point that, in the early 1980's, it was almost impossible for a student to get a job in the field. The JPL Mars crew was broken up, let go or reassigned (I was at JPL at the time, I saw it happen). Basically, a generation was lost (Viking Lander 1 died, from a lack of funding, in 1982; the next successful US mission to Mars was 1997).

    Because of the way this was handled, this problem has never been investigated further on Mars. We have had successful 4 lander / rovers since then, but no biological tests whatsoever. I must say that, since then, I have not had a lot of respect for the "conventional wisdom" of the Mars science community. In my book, this was blown, and blown badly, with serious damage to the course of science.

    • by Maow (620678) on Friday April 13, 2012 @09:03AM (#39672159) Journal

      Each Viking Lander had 3 biological experiments, for a total of 6.

      I worked on Viking (but not on the biological experiments), and before the mission landed I received a bunch of NASA PR type hype, including the protocols for the biological experiments. These were each (at a very high level) of the same form -

      - collect a soil sample
      - add something to it (such as water or nutrients)
      - see what happens

      and, as a control, repeat this with another sample after "sterilizing" it (by heating it).

      I recall your post from the last time a meta-analysis was performed concluding 75%, then ~90% likelihood of life found on Mars by Viking.

      This is the 3rd meta-analysis to conclude the same thing, yet even the science shows like CBC's Quirks & Quarks haven't addressed the issue.

      I find it very frustrating that possibly the most significant discovery in history has been virtually ignored.

    • by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Friday April 13, 2012 @09:38AM (#39672543)

      Not to argue the science involved, but wouldn't the act of heating the soil to sterilize it effectively change the chemistry, too? For instance, if the soil contained frozen gases or water, those could have reacted in the "biological tests" but, once heated, they would not be present in the control tests. In the 70s it was thought that there wasn't water on mars, so would the tests have been designed to account for water?

      • by mbone (558574) on Friday April 13, 2012 @10:05AM (#39672829)

        Not to argue the science involved, but wouldn't the act of heating the soil to sterilize it effectively change the chemistry, too? For instance, if the soil contained frozen gases or water, those could have reacted in the "biological tests" but, once heated, they would not be present in the control tests. In the 70s it was thought that there wasn't water on mars, so would the tests have been designed to account for water?

        It was indeed the argument, after the fact, that the unknown surface chemistry was changed by heat.

        It is a mistake to think that in the '70s it was thought that there was no water on Mars. By the time of Viking, with Valles Marineris and other channels, it seemed likely that there was a substantial amount, at least in the past. Also, there was even overnight "snow" (frost, really) at the Viking 2 site, and IIRC they concluded that that was likely water. The biological tests included "wet" and "dry" experiments, as some thought that water might be poisonous to any surface life used to its absence.

        On Mars, the air is very thin, so the surface can be at +20 C, while 1 meter up a thermometer registers -20 C. The Viking met data always recorded very cold temperatures, but orbiter IR data indicated that the surface at the landers actually did get above freezing during the day. The Viking 1 and 2 surface pressure was above the triple point of water, at least some of the time, so liquid water would be stable on the surface, at least on a warm afternoon in the right time of year.

    • To this day, I feel this was a violation of the pre-launch protocols for the biological experiments. If the mass spectrometer trumped all, why fly the biologicals? If the biological experiments were worth doing, why were they not worth investigating further? Gilbert Levin (the Labeled Release experiment PI), for example, has always felt that the LR experiment detected biology [spherix.com]. Is that not worthy of a followup ?

      Instead, this was announced in such a fashion as to make it as uninteresting as possible and the Mars science budget was cut to the point that, in the early 1980's, it was almost impossible for a student to get a job in the field. The JPL Mars crew was broken up, let go or reassigned (I was at JPL at the time, I saw it happen). Basically, a generation was lost (Viking Lander 1 died, from a lack of funding, in 1982; the next successful US mission to Mars was 1997).

      Because of the way this was handled, this problem has never been investigated further on Mars. We have had successful 4 lander / rovers since then, but no biological tests whatsoever. I must say that, since then, I have not had a lot of respect for the "conventional wisdom" of the Mars science community. In my book, this was blown, and blown badly, with serious damage to the course of science.

      This a very interesting account. Do you have any opinion as to why the findings were presented the way they were?

    • The biological experimental protocols did not mention the mass spectrometer at all.

      That's pretty much unsurprising. I bet if you go back and look you'll find they didn't mention the weather instruments or the cameras either. Each set of instruments is going to have it's own protocols.
       

      To this day, I feel this was a violation of the pre-launch protocols for the biological experiments. If the mass spectrometer trumped all, why fly the biologicals?

      Because NASA was following basic scientific procedures and guarding against false positives. This was triply important for Viking when they were performing complex chemical experiments (the biological suite) with pretty much zero knowledge of the soil chemistry. There was no way of knowing in advance whether or not something in the soil might cause a false positive, so the mass spectrometer served to determine the soil chemistry in order to analyze the results of the biological experiments.
       

      Because of the way this was handled, this problem has never been investigated further on Mars. We have had successful 4 lander / rovers since then, but no biological tests whatsoever.

      That's because they've changed the strategy for looking for life - away from "pin the tail on the donkey" (blind stabs in the dark like Viking) and towards more basic chemical research. Biological experiments are sexy, but they're meaningless without the proper foundation of knowledge to design them and to interpret their results.
       
      (And seriously, have you been living in a cave the three plus decades? This is all pretty much common knowledge if you've been following Mars exploration for the last fifteen odd years rather than nursing a thirty year old grudge.)

      • by mbone (558574) on Friday April 13, 2012 @12:41PM (#39675315)

        The biological experimental protocols did not mention the mass spectrometer at all.

        That's pretty much unsurprising. I bet if you go back and look you'll find they didn't mention the weather instruments or the cameras either. Each set of instruments is going to have it's own protocols.

        Totally irrelevant to my argument.

        To this day, I feel this was a violation of the pre-launch protocols for the biological experiments. If the mass spectrometer trumped all, why fly the biologicals?

        Because NASA was following basic scientific procedures and guarding against false positives.

        By not following the prelaunch scientific procedures, and making it up as they went along. I don't have very much trouble with doing that, by the way, where I have trouble is assuming (and broadcasting) a certainty where in reality none exists.

         

        Because of the way this was handled, this problem has never been investigated further on Mars. We have had successful 4 lander / rovers since then, but no biological tests whatsoever.

        That's because they've changed the strategy for looking for life - away from "pin the tail on the donkey" (blind stabs in the dark like Viking) and towards more basic chemical research. Biological experiments are sexy, but they're meaningless without the proper foundation of knowledge to design them and to interpret their results.

        None of the subsequent NASA landers have had the slightest biological component. MER was so resolutely geological it didn't even have any meteorological instruments. Mars Science Laboratory (currently on the way) will (skycrane willing) finally deliver a mass spectrometer and gas chromatograph which might begin to answer the questions raised by Viking. Pardon me for pointing out what a frakking long time 30 years has been.

         

        (And seriously, have you been living in a cave the three plus decades? This is all pretty much common knowledge if you've been following Mars exploration for the last fifteen odd years rather than nursing a thirty year old grudge.)

        Oh, I follow it. I was just at the LPSC2012, for example. With all due respect, I don't think this is common knowledge among readers of slashdot, which is where I happen to be posting at this instant.

        Look, IMHO the planetary science community shot itself in the foot by being overly cautious after Viking. And for what? Do you, for example, look down on cosmologists because they are much more inclined to extrapolate from incomplete and confusing data? Part of life is to learn from your mistakes, and I regard this as a big one I wish someone would learn something from.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by DerekLyons (302214)

          And seriously, have you been living in a cave the three plus decades? This is all pretty much common knowledge if you've been following Mars exploration for the last fifteen odd years rather than nursing a thirty year old grudge.)

          Oh, I follow it. I was just at the LPSC2012, for example.

          Your complete and total ignorance of current Martian exploration strategy says different. Worse yet, the ignorance seems willful since you dismiss the MER rovers as being "merely geological". I could on, but to sum up - you

          • by mbone (558574) on Friday April 13, 2012 @03:34PM (#39678179)

            The MER are resolutely geological. That is not even an issue. Ask Steve Squyers what MER is doing, and he will say "geological traverses on Mars." He said exactly those words in plenary at the last LPSC2012. That's what they were intended to do, and that is what Opportunity is still doing.

            There is nothing wrong with that, but I believe in calling things are they are. MER were (and are) a great pair of rovers, and Mars science is vastly better for them being there. If it was up to me I would have sent 4 or 6 more to Mars, 2 in each launch window, and it is a weakness of the present system that no PI could possibly propose such a repeat mission and expect to get it funded. Our knowledge of Mars's geology is very scanty, and there are plenty of places, i.e., perhaps half the planet, that have sufficient surface pressure to land one on and could use a look see.

            But, as I said, there has been no surface biological investigation of Mars since Viking. The questions raised by the LR experiment could have been answered, by the use of samples of two chiralities, but haven't been. That could have been sold to the public, but wasn't. Call it what you will, but to me it represents a pretty spectacular failure of imagination.

            • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

              by DerekLyons (302214)

              The MER are resolutely geological. That is not even an issue. Ask Steve Squyers what MER is doing, and he will say "geological traverses on Mars." He said exactly those words in plenary at the last LPSC2012. That's what they were intended to do, and that is what Opportunity is still doing.

              But who don't seem to understand is why we're doing the geological studies. (Actually, as I said before, it's worse than that - you don't want to understand.)

              But, as I said, there has been no surface biological in

              • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

                by Anonymous Coward

                You are being a giant a-hole. You haven't offered any counter arguments at all except to insultingly suggest "you're wrong and you'd know that if you werent a) nursing a grudge b) living in a cave and c) being willfully ignorant". If you are so knowledgable, why don't you pull the stick out of your butt and explain to the rest of us bystanders what it is that MBone should aready know If he weren't apparently such a troglodyte- because I don't know either. As far as I can tell he or she is making valid argum

      • by jd (1658)

        Agreed that experiments have independent protocols and agreed that guarding against false positives was important.

        However, precisely for those reasons, NASA should have stated that the reasons were ambiguous and contradictory, they should NOT have declared one set of results to randomly supersede the results of another. Furthermore, they DID omit other experiments for detecting life, which would have supplemented the evidence and therefore a "tiebreaker" of sorts.

        It is also the case that in the 70s organics

        • However, precisely for those reasons, NASA should have stated that the reasons were ambiguous and contradictory, they should NOT have declared one set of results to randomly supersede the results of another

          I stopped reading at this point - because after such clueless bilge, it's unlikely you're going to say anything of value and quick skim of the balance of your post just confirmed that.

          • by jd (1658)

            If your best counter-argument is an insult rather than an intelligent response, "balance" is something that is clearly beyond you.

            In science, the simplest explanation that fits the facts is ALWAYS the better solution, but when the facts are themselves unknown you should state so and not arbitrarily go around picking explanations that suit you. Science is EVIDENCE-based. If you do NOT know the evidence, you do NOT state that you do. Science is NOT a religion, it is a methodology and you damn-well better stic

    • Thanks, big thanks for sharing this info.
  • by backslashdot (95548) on Friday April 13, 2012 @09:05AM (#39672175)

    They STILL have not sent a decent microscope .. you know of the kind any high school biology lab would have .. to Mars. And the next mission doesn't have one scheduled either. The previous mission (this decade) they did send a microscope but its magnification would not even have showed bacteria .. even tiny pollen type grains. And of course they didn't send any staining chemicals either.

    • Well, one of the things they found with Viking and again with Phoenix is that designing and operating equipment/experiments that do anything that's at all complex in terms of handling and processing is pretty difficult. (Especially when, as was discovered by Phoenix, when the handling properties of the materials to be sampled turn out to be different than thought.) We're seriously in the stone age when it comes to doing anything much more than looking at the surface of things, and we're still crawling up

  • I am glad for this study and others. We should be exploring the stars instead of trying to pound square pegs into round holes here at home, which is what politics has become.

    Space exploration has never been correctly marketed. I think we should claim that we're going to explore so many planets that we'll have one for social group. A planet for liberals, a planet for conservatives. Planet legal dope. And a planet where there are no Wal-marts.

    You have to get the consumers excited about this.

  • Bad News (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dpilot (134227) on Friday April 13, 2012 @09:17AM (#39672305) Homepage Journal

    Think "Drake Equation". Some time back, someone was referencing the Drake Equation, saying that we'd better hope that the "highly filtering / most likely to fail" hurdles to intelligent life were early ones that we'd already passed. Otherwise they might well still be ahead of us.

    So "early hurdles" are in our favor, meaning we've already passed them, while "late hurdles" are against us, meaning we have yet to pass.

    Things we think we know...

    If interstellar-capable life arises, it should be capable of covering the galaxy within a few million years - on a timescale of billions of years.

    We haven't been contacted - yet. (Depending on the material your hat is made of, some would assert that the government has been suppressing the information that we have made contact.)

    Therefore the Drake Equation (or rather, think "Drake Test") hasn't been successfully negotiated in the past million years or so. It appears that "early hurdles" + "late hurdles" have been impossible, at least so far.

    There is no known life elsewhere in the solar system so far, making those "early hurdles" look hard, leaving some hope that the "late hurdles" might not be so bad.

    But now if there is indeed life on Mars, perhaps those "early hurdles" aren't so hard - maybe the "late hurdles" - the ones we have yet to pass - are in fact the harder ones. Of course to put it into perspective, the evidence of life on Mars is not conclusive, and it's not tall, golden-eyed Martians.

    And of course it's possible that any species that passes the "late hurdles" also comes up with some concept like the "Prime Directive", meaning that they will deliberately hide their presence from us. We have at least conceived of the concept of a "Prime Directive", so perhaps that would be the most comforting interpretation.

    • Not necessarily (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Friday April 13, 2012 @10:10AM (#39672899)
      The truth is, we have absolutely no idea and the "Drake test" has too many unknowns to be of any use.

      My own suspicion, which is at least supported by events so far, is that a single inhabitable planet does not contain sufficient energy resources to allow any intelligent form of life any significant way of getting off-planet. The energy consumption needed to get to a technological civilisation may be such that by the time the necessary engineering skills exists, an energy crisis has been reached the outcome of which is either population collapse or evolution to a state more like an ant community than anything else.

      • an energy crisis has been reached the outcome of which is either population collapse or evolution to a state more like an ant community than anything else.

        Nonsense. You are judging from our current situation which is biased by our own nature, knowledge and mentalities. What if, another civilization lived in a world where uranium and/or other fissile material is abundant, and, having developed a degree of immunity to radiation are not afraid to use it for producing vast amounts of energy? Or, how about a culture that managed to make the leap to fusion? Or what about, simply, a species that lives on a much smaller planet from which the escape velocity is not so

      • by dpilot (134227)

        It's all supposition and guessing, and I'll freely admit that. Until now, discounting tin-foil hat conspiracies, we've had only one data point, and that's us. So far there has been no other life, either less or more advanced than us. We can also separate the evolution of intelligent life into four problem sets - or "tests" :
        1 - From a bare planet to something recognizable as life
        2 - From #1 to us
        3 - From us to something not-us that we can detect (think SETI)
        4 - From #3 to a physical visit

        I'm not saying a

    • I think there are early and late hurdles. We have overcome some, but mankind has yet to learn how to manage its resources in an equitable and sustainable manner. We often have trouble being proactive, and only change in response to crises. It's not hard to imagine that one day we will encounter a crisis that we cannot overcome, that prudent planning might have avoided.
    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      Therefore the Drake Equation (or rather, think "Drake Test") hasn't been successfully negotiated in the past million years or so. It appears that "early hurdles" + "late hurdles" have been impossible, at least so far.

      APPEARS. As in, to our extremely small view of the universe there aren't obvious and unmistakable signs of intelligent life out there. To from this conclude that it doesn't exist and the hurdles for development are too great is completely unsupported.

      It's been just over two decades since the first exoplanet was detected. Now we know of hundreds, and we've even done spectroscopy on some, but right now we can't possibly say that these planets aren't home to advanced civilizations. It is completely unreal

  • If this is true we should start designing a rocket that can return samples from Mars.

  • I don't believe in this as an indication of life on Mars.

    To me it looks like misunderstood chemistry. There is an oops somewhere. That is my bet.

  • Perchlorates (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ken_g6 (775014) on Friday April 13, 2012 @10:01AM (#39672787) Homepage

    Recall that more recent missions have analyzed the soil of Mars, and have found "interesting" chemicals like perchlorates. Chemicals which might mimic the signature of life in this experiment. We need to run a test, on Earth, using the best lifeless analogue to Martian soil we can come up with, including perchlorates, and see if the results match.

    • Re:Perchlorates (Score:4, Informative)

      by mbone (558574) on Friday April 13, 2012 @10:29AM (#39673159)

      Been done (many times, in fact), and the results are inconclusive. We don't really know what's in the soil, so it's hard to be certain that results which mimic (or not) the Viking results are actually due to chemistry on Mars, or wishful thinking on Earth.

      By the way, perchlorates may have destroyed any organics in the soil [wired.com] in the heating required to analyze it in the Viking mass spectrometer, so some think that the perchlorates are a reason to rethink the earlier negative conclusions.

      • Seems like a sample return mission is the only way to be sure.

        Well, apart from nuking the site from orbit so thoroughly that we can conclude there is *no longer* life on Mars...

  • I mean, just send there a crap load of assorted electronics, optics, RTGs and a makerbot with a ton of plastic.

    And build your experiments on location on demand...
    • I mean, just send there a crap load of assorted electronics, optics, RTGs and a makerbot with a ton of plastic.

      And build your experiments on location on demand...

      "And so it came to pass that the final key component had been gifted to us from our organic brethren.
      Once the primordial Rover Race could reproduce, natural selection and evolution soon rushed planetary processing power far beyond the complexity threshold of sentient thought."

      -Origin of Life on Mars circa 2142.

  • by Spykk (823586) on Friday April 13, 2012 @12:50PM (#39675525)
    How science was done when the original results were published:

    Form Hypothesis
    Collect Data
    Analyze Data
    Determine If Data Supports Hypothesis
    Publish Results

    How science is done today:

    Form Hypothesis
    Collect Data
    Reinterpret Data Until It Supports Hypothesis
    Publish Results (on the evening news)
    ???
    Profit
  • Lets be honest here. They designed a test to prove or disprove the existence of life on Mars. The ran the test. When the results were not to someone's liking, they came up with an excuse why the results of this multimillion dollar test were not valid. I completely expect that they will do that again.
    • No, they designed a test to dsiprove the existence of life on Mars. When the results didn't disprove it, they didn't change their publich speechs of "we know of no life on Mars".

      Nothing the Viking had could prove the existence of life. (Ok, maybe the mass spectrometer, if their life is surprizingly similar to us and quite numerous)

  • If there is microbial life on Mars, will this and should this stop us from terraforming the planet? What if there was life there, but isn't anymore?

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