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NASA Mars Space Science

NASA May Have Killed The Martians 238

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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  • old video (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hennell ( 1005107 ) on Sunday January 07, 2007 @11:28PM (#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:old video (Score:3, Interesting)

    by veganboyjosh ( 896761 ) on Sunday January 07, 2007 @11:36PM (#17503902)
    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?
  • by Attaturk ( 695988 ) on Monday January 08, 2007 @12:10AM (#17504126) Homepage
    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.
  • by davros-too ( 987732 ) on Monday January 08, 2007 @12:21AM (#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.
  • by starfire-1 ( 159960 ) on Monday January 08, 2007 @12:59AM (#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. [] saw the new Fusion with six blades coming way back in Feb 2004!
  • Re:old video (Score:4, Interesting)

    by trewornan ( 608722 ) on Monday January 08, 2007 @01:33AM (#17504632)

    life would be different on a planet with entirely different conditions

    But it's almost a pre-requisite that there must be a liquid medium available for life to exist. Chemicals in a solid can't move around enough to go through the complexity of reactions and in a gas they're too far apart.

    Also the liquid almost has to be water in order to dissolve the wide variety of chemicals you need (although you could argue that organic solvents would work if life was mostly carbon based).

    You also need compounds which can form large and varied molecules in order to carry enough information for a genome. Some people have suggested silicon based compounds could form large enough (and varied enough) molecules but I doubt it personally, which leaves carbon molecules as the only realistic basis for life.

    We end up with carbon based life forms existing only where liquid water is available and consequently no life on mars - as experiment after experiment has found.

    NASA pushes life on Mars as a possibility because it's a justification for their continued existence and their proposed (pointless) manned trips there.

    Admittedly it's difficult to prove a negative and there the faint possiblity of some weird "energy based" lifeform or something like that but, in practice, (and unless some unexpected evidence shows up) Occam's Razor tells us there is no life on Mars. It's disappointing but try to be logical about it.

    Ganymede (liquid water) and Titan (liquid hydrocarbons) are better bets.

  • Re:30-year-old news (Score:2, Interesting)

    by gremlinuk ( 454089 ) on Monday January 08, 2007 @04:51AM (#17505746) Homepage
    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.'
  • by SnapShot ( 171582 ) on Monday January 08, 2007 @11:04AM (#17508214)
    I just hope we have a resistance to the Martian microbes. Remember how that movie ended?

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