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White House Briefed On "Potential For Life" On Mars 610

Veeoh writes "FTA: It would appear that the US President has been briefed by Phoenix scientists about the discovery of something more 'provocative' than the discovery of water existing on the Martian surface. This news comes just as the Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer (TEGA) confirmed experimental evidence for the existence of water in the Mars regolith on Thursday."
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White House Briefed On "Potential For Life" On Mars

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  • by florin ( 2243 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @11:03AM (#24447623)

    It's always provocative when you hear they spotted a big black monolith in the regolith.

    His first response was probably to ask if this meant Jenna was pregnant.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by maxume ( 22995 )

      Is it really any wonder that elected officials care nothing for the opinions of the masses?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by linzeal ( 197905 )
        The American form of government is fundamentally broken in design and philosophy. The idea that so much executive power should rest with one man be it under the mandate of god or electorate is absurd and anachronistic. We should attempt again at remaking democracy in a more modern image with dutiful consideration that our inherent rights should be protected explicitly, that checks and balances on power be strengthened and perhaps it is time to reconsider the mechanisms of power in all branches. 500 elect
        • Re:Big and black (Score:4, Insightful)

          by h4rm0ny ( 722443 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @01:59PM (#24449237) Journal

          The form of government of the USA is not "fundamentally broken in design and philosophy." In its design and philosophy, it is one of the best models that has been yet tried by the species. The problems have resulted from two things: Firstly, an uninformed and overly-obedient populace resulting from excessive media control and from everyone being too in-debt and thus too over-worked to invest time in their own government. Secondly, violation of the "design and philosophy" of the system by governing parties that has gone unpunished. You want a fundamental design and philosophy that works, but you have it! The Constitution is an advanced and well-thought out thing and shows impressive foresight and intelligence on the parts of its authors. But certain governments have wiped their arse on it. It's not a failure of fundamental design and philosophy, but of enforcement. Get the telecoms companies punished for breaking the law recently, and you've made a good start to fixing things.
          • by jamrock ( 863246 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @10:46PM (#24452651)
            "...except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." -- Winston Churchill, November 11, 1947
    • by VennData ( 1217856 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @01:47PM (#24449109)
      Naw, Bush'll say that look, now that we've discovered life, we can stop funding this wasteful gov't boondoggle and give the money back to the people.
  • woo (Score:5, Funny)

    by nomadic ( 141991 ) <nomadicworld@gmai l . c om> on Saturday August 02, 2008 @11:04AM (#24447635) Homepage
    How fortunate that a potentially major scientific discovery happens on President Bush's watch. His keen intellect, intense curiousity of the natural world, and scientific rationality has been such a boon to our country and indeed our world.
    • Re:woo (Score:5, Insightful)

      by pitchpipe ( 708843 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @11:19AM (#24447791)
      Imagine briefing unintelligent life about the discovery of unintelligent life.
    • Re:woo (Score:4, Insightful)

      by gregbot9000 ( 1293772 ) <> on Saturday August 02, 2008 @11:30AM (#24447867) Journal
      Seriously, why the run around. Did they go to the president when the viking Labeled Release [] results ended up positive?

      Maybe the life forms are some sort of stem cells and they're checking on the legality of bringing back samples?
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by uncoveror ( 570620 )
        Viking found a lot more than microbes. It found the Zhti Ti Kofft! Read all about it. [] []
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by shellbeach ( 610559 )

        Seriously, why the run around. Did they go to the president when the viking Labeled Release [] results ended up positive?

        Well, according to the article you linked to, one experiment on the Viking missions indicated a possible presence of life; another indicated an absence of life. Furthermore, it is possible (again, according to the article you linked to) to explain the positive result as a false-positive. As such, the results were inconclusive, and to suggest that these indicate that there is life on Mars is crazy.

        However, it's possible that the current results show the existence of organic compounds after all -- in other

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Lord Ender ( 156273 )

      He supports manned space explorations. Its one of his only controversial policies I agree with. Having all humans in one biosphere means that life and intelligence (so far as we know) could be wiped from the face of the universe by a single meteor impact. Manned space exploration is a necessary step in humanity's primary raison d'etra: the perpetuation of life.

    • by wisebabo ( 638845 )

      Nixon also got "lucky" with a major scientific coup (the Apollo moon landings) happening on his watch. He despised JFK and killed the program just as soon as he could. Still, it is his name and not JFK's that is on the plaque affixed to the lunar lander descent stage. Hundreds/Thousands/Millions of years from now it'll still be there.

      The low TV ratings didn't help either.

    • Re:woo (Score:5, Funny)

      by noidentity ( 188756 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @03:17PM (#24449973)

      How fortunate that a potentially major scientific discovery happens on President Bush's watch. His keen intellect, intense curiousity of the natural world, and scientific rationality has been such a boon to our country and indeed our world.

      I know you're joking, but Bush did find an error in some Fermilab calculations [] a while back. Don't underestimate him.

  • damn, he hid good!!

  • Already? (Score:5, Funny)

    by koma77 ( 930091 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @11:08AM (#24447663)
    Wow, are they already out of funds? That was fast.
  • If there's life, we can kill it. If there's been life for a long time, it's probably left an oily residue somewhere.

    Prepare for the Space War I! Spreading democracy throughout the Solar System!

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Cylix ( 55374 )

      Don't worry, I'm making the call to the Republican Space Rangers at this very moment!

  • It's probably some form of Martian Lichen growing on one of the equipment arms that is kept above freezing by the waste heat from the nuclear batteries. They'll let us know that it's some sort of f'd up moss that has been causing some of the problems with doing their experiments.</wishful_thinking>
    • by CptNerd ( 455084 ) <> on Saturday August 02, 2008 @02:50PM (#24449717) Homepage

      The key part is in the last paragraph, where it says the "provocative" results came from the experiment where they added water from Earth to a sample of soil. I bet they had a burst of oxygen like the old Viking lander experiments, which no one ever satisfactorily explained. The one that I remembered that made sense was some kind of dry peroxide in the soil formed by UV, which reacted with water to generate O2, but didn't repeat because the peroxide was used up.

      I hope this indicates some kind of chemistry that makes it easy to extract breathable O2 from Martian soil, so that any explorers/exploiters won't have to take as much in consumables. Would be nice to find a nitrogen source, then you'd have CHON, which is most of what you need to live. In the right proportions, of course.

  • Sheesh (Score:5, Funny)

    by Davemania ( 580154 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @11:12AM (#24447703) Journal
    For a moment I though NASA discovered intelligent lifeforms in the white house.
  • Colour me confused (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 4D6963 ( 933028 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @11:14AM (#24447729)

    Heed my word, my brothers, for I have RTFA! It says that there's no way it has confirmed the presence of life right now or in the past on Mars. So what can be the big story they want to tell the President first?

    Or if it's no bigger than "we found something that may or may not indicate the possibility that Mars may or may not have probably potentially hosted a form a life, maybe eventually?" then why the secrecy?

  • Does Phoenix have the ability to detect the building blocks of life in the water samples it's apparently found? Will it be able to detect the presence of complex molecules or even microbes within the water?

    • by OriginalArlen ( 726444 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @12:42PM (#24448505)
      No, although theoretically if something swims past one of the microscopy instruments (there's an Atomic Force Microsoft as well as an optical instrument) that could be seen. However the Aviation Leak report specifically says their sources say "it's not life itself", but something to do with the behaviour of the soil in the presence of water - which is exactly what the "wet chemistry" aspect of MECA is about; adding pure water (carried from earth) to the samples to see what happens.
  • by pha7boy ( 1242512 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @11:15AM (#24447751)

    they have always said that the existance of water would make the discovery of life more certain. if indeed they confirmed the existance of water, it seems to me very likely that they will also find at least the building blocks of life if not evidence that basic lifeforms once existed on Mars. It's still a long way from confirming the existance of advance life forms, and even a longer way from confirming the existance of civilization.

    i would find it incredible if, after finding life, they did not find any traces of aminoacids or any other building blocks. frankly, i think not finding any evidence of life even though water existed on Mars would be a bigger discovery then finding that some single cell life existed once. but that's just me.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @11:18AM (#24447769) Homepage

    The Viking lander [] checked for microscopic life on Mars back in 1971. It wasn't a very sensitive test; the lander shot out some "sticky strings" and wound them back in. The lander had a unit which tested whether anything collected assimilated any of a few simple compounds. It didn't.

    This established that Mars isn't teeming with microorganisms, like Earth. That doesn't eliminate all possibility of life, or something like it, but it did establish that there's no pervasive ecosystem there.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Absent an ocean - which provides a gradient of temperatures and protection from Solar radiation for early unsophisticated life forms, it may be difficult for life to get started.

      Sure we may be surprised by some new means of self-reproduction, but on our own planet - how many organisms got their start outside of the petri dish of vast body of water? AIK

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by alexborges ( 313924 )

        Well... i dont think we know about the origin of life enough to make that broad a statement.

        What if its the other way arround? Barring some primitive bacteria or virii that does this or that, you cant have an atmosphere thick enough to give oceans....etc.

        Im just saying, the cause of the event "life on earth" is still unknown.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 02, 2008 @11:42AM (#24447955)

      At least, not in top one centimeter of regolith near the Viking lander, whose landing spot was specifically chosen for its uninterestingness (i.e., flatness).

      You can't really take ONE test of this nature and extrapolate it to an entire planet. That's sorta like landing a probe in the Sahara desert and concluding that the entire Earth is a desolate wasteland based on the tests you conducted on a few grains of sand.

      • by laura20 ( 21566 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @01:23PM (#24448889) Homepage

        Actually, if you did the same test in the Sahara, it would come back positive; a gram of Sahara soil contains maybe a billion bacteria. Bacteria *are* our ecosystem, in a lot of ways. In the water, in Antarctic ice, miles beneath the surface of the earth, they are in their millions.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by AhtirTano ( 638534 )

          Very true.

          However, Earth seems to have excellent conditions for life to thrive, allowing this diversity of bacteria in extreme places. Larger life forms do not thrive in so many extreme conditions. Mars does not appear to be great for life to thrive, as evidenced by the apparent lack of anything larger than bacteria. Who's to say that the conditions aren't so harsh that bacteria can only survive in really limited areas?

    • 1976, actually. (Score:3, Informative)

      by JoeGee ( 85189 )
      Other than that, your post is accurate.
  • by NetSettler ( 460623 ) * <> on Saturday August 02, 2008 @11:19AM (#24447789) Homepage Journal

    Finally an iron-clad reason to keep the Republicans from aborting Mars missions...

    At least until we find actual life, when I guess they'll stop caring and start suggesting that such life invest in its own individual retirement plan.

  • .... they will come...

  • How do we deport these Illegal Aliens?
  • by owlnation ( 858981 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @11:37AM (#24447923)
    ...The President of Mars was briefed about the improbability of Intelligent Life governing the Earth.
  • by wisebabo ( 638845 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @11:45AM (#24447981) Journal

    Since Phoenix can find organics and (I think) has a mass spectrometer perhaps it has found DNA? If they just found some carbon compounds that wouldn't seem that noteworthy, they find them everywhere in space (like carbonaceous meteorites). Of course if it's DNA (or RNA) then the possibility of contamination comes in (of course it if uses a totally different "code" that would make me believe at least it wasn't deliberate. A really sneaky scientist could put some DNA in there that didn't bear any resemblance to Earthian DNA thus leading one to believe it was martian. I say this in reference to some experiments where scientists are adding some new "letters" to the alphabet of amino acids that DNA codes for, the triplet codons in nature redundantly code for only 20 amino acids, not the 64 it could.)

    Reminds me of the scene if "E.T." when during the capture of E.T. someone announces "he's got DNA!".

    Of course this is completely idle wishful speculation on my part, the discovery is likely much more pedestrian. Feel free to ignore this post. ;)

  • by MadFarmAnimalz ( 460972 ) * on Saturday August 02, 2008 @11:56AM (#24448093) Homepage
    This news comes just as the Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer (TEGA)

    If they'd just spent a little more time thinking it through, they could probably have come up with something more appropriate like Field Aerosol Recognition Thermal Sensing Nonionic Interference Failtested Frankly Erotic Robot. The resulting acronym would, I am sure, have been more memorable.

  • Organic molecules (Score:3, Informative)

    by damburger ( 981828 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @12:10PM (#24448237)
    My bet is on some kind of organic molecules, perhaps amino acids. Certainly interesting, probably not of interest to the non-scientist. Bush is probably not enjoying his briefing.
  • by LM741N ( 258038 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @12:42PM (#24448507)

    to discuss ways to combat Martian terrorism. President Bush said "The War on Martian Terrorism" has just begun. Billions will be needed for various agencies to fight against the interplanetary menace.

  • by videoBuff ( 1043512 ) on Saturday August 02, 2008 @01:38PM (#24449033)
    Since this news is about potential for Mars Life, it follows that NASA is going by âoeSETI Post Detection Protocol.â Special Issue Acta Astronautica, Vol. 21, No. 2, J.C. Tarter and M.A. Michaud (eds.) (1990) or its variants. [] "The discoverer should inform his/her or its relevant national authorities." This is in Step 2 of the protocol. The implication is that Step 3 will not happen, unless Step 2 is allowed.

    This practice is not anything new. When Mars meteorite ALH 84001 was suspected to have fossilized life, previous White House administration was notified. Only after getting permission from White House (took about couple of weeks) was that news even published.

  • by Tekoneiric ( 590239 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @03:34AM (#24454125) Journal
    I for one hope they don't find any life on Mars because if they discover even a single non-Earth origin microbe it will mean the end of any possibility of colonizing or even terraforming Mars. Every religious and nature group will come out against us going to Mars for science and colonization. Plus you'll get the people fearful of Martian life getting to Earth against it too. Life on Mars would almost mean the end of Space exploration for the foreseeable future.
  • servant01 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by servant01 ( 1337835 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @05:21AM (#24454525)
    While I find this story to be somewhat interesting, My faith in modern science is rapidly waning. Far too much of today's "science" is based upon conjecture, presupposition, assumption and, bias rather than truly objective scientific method. I do hope we have learned something useful from the red planet. It is nice to see a few cogent posts regarding the subject matter. Unfortunately, they are the vast minority. I assume those who have chosen this venue to vilify certain politicians, are well acquainted with said politicians and are privy to detailed information regarding their daily duties, private conversations and, perhaps even their thoughts . To spew such vitriol without very intimate knowledge would seem to indicate a psychological problem or a diminished capacity for reason. In any case, I look forward to the announcement of the MECA discovery with some degree of anticipation.

When you are working hard, get up and retch every so often.