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Intraterrestrials: Mars Life May Hide Deep Below 79

astroengine writes "Almost every month we see news dispatches from the Mars where the nuclear-powered rover Curiosity finds water-bearing minerals in rocks and other circumstantial clues that the Red Planet could have once supported life. But in terms of finding direct evidence of past or present Martians, the rover barely scratches the surface, says geochemist Jan Amend of the University of Southern California. Using Earth life as an example, some species of microbes live miles below the surface, without sunlight or oxygen, metabolizing chemicals that are the result of radioactive decay. Most intriguing of all is the microbe Desulforudis Audaxviator that dwells nearly two miles down, a life form that would feel right at home inside Mars' crust. 'This organism has had to figure out everything on its own,' says Amend, 'it splits water into hydrogen and oxygen for metabolism.' Amend hopes to drop probes deep underground in some of the world's most inhospitable locations over the next few years, creating a possible analog for future Mars subsurface studies."
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Intraterrestrials: Mars Life May Hide Deep Below

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  • "intraterrestrial" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NoNonAlphaCharsHere ( 2201864 ) on Monday April 08, 2013 @04:48PM (#43394945)
    I do not think that word means what you think it means.
    • But intramarstrial is too hard to say.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "Intramarsial" has an unpleasant tendency of making people think of antisocial kangaroos.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Really? That didn't seem so bad to me, compared to "news dispatches from the Mars." I didn't bother to read the article, but it seems the summary at least could be suggesting that there may be life on Mars similar to intraterrestrial life that we've already found.

    • Given that the article is about understanding life forms deep in the Earth's crust (which provides an analogous habitat to Mars' crust), what different meaning of "intraterrestrial" do you think the authors should be aware of?

    • Intraterrestrial? You mean like, life on uranus?

    • by Trogre ( 513942 )

      Heh good point, but perhaps the poster might be forgiven as much as someone referring to seismic activity on another planet as an earthquake.


  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Monday April 08, 2013 @04:56PM (#43395007)

    >> Amend hopes to drop probes deep underground in some of the world's most inhospitable locations over the next few years

    Where? Beijing? Mexico City? Or the real kind of inhospitable like the Gobi desert or Antarctica? I'd think once you get far enough underground pretty much anyplace would be inhospitable...to humans.

    • Depends how deep you go. Most cave systems are far more hospitable to humans than the world outside, once you aren't worried about food and in some cases clean water. Stable temperatures, little chance of exposure, no heavy rains or winds, a nice cave makes a good hidey hole if you're stuck.

  • Ugh, more Mars love (Score:5, Interesting)

    by GodfatherofSoul ( 174979 ) on Monday April 08, 2013 @05:00PM (#43395049)

    I wish I had a few hundred million to push NASA out to Encelaedus or Europa. I bet we could just take samples of water spewed up from below to find evidence of life it it exists on either moon.

    • by arth1 ( 260657 )

      All these worlds are yours, except Europa. Attempt no landing there.

      Clarke thought Europa to be the most likely candidate for extraterrestrial life. Still unlikely but perhaps more likely than the rest, based on the albedo. And if there's a chance of life, some of us might not want to disturb it. And would violently protect it.

  • Hey, if we're just speculating, why stop at microbes?
  • by Invisible Now ( 525401 ) on Monday April 08, 2013 @05:18PM (#43395175)

    Panspermia is the theory that life is ubiquitous and travels from planet to planet and star to star. Less unlikely than it seems. For example, dormant spores trapped in salt crystals 25 million years old rejuvenated themselves when released. Life is hardy.

    Which of three theories seems on the right side of Occam's Razor:
        That life is unique to Earth (where it is all DNA/RNA based)?
        That life originates in novel non-DNA based ways independently on each planet?
        or that DNA-based life is mobile, seeds planets from above, and then evolves to suit each new environment?

    (Wait, I think that could be a Slahdot poll...)

    I believe we will find the same is true for life in the the seas of Europa, and elsewhere, too.

    • by Vintermann ( 400722 ) on Monday April 08, 2013 @05:33PM (#43395297) Homepage

      James Lovelock pointed out in the sixties that viewed from space, it would immediately be apparent that earth and life. The prescence of huge amounts of gases which are not stable distinguishes from all other planets in the solar system. He predicted that Mars was in fact dead (before the Viking landers). The idea was that if life had got a foothold, it would probably have managed a similar totally transforming expansion over millions of years. Life that does not leave a big footprint wouldn't seem very much like the life we know from Earth.

      You got to admit, it's held up for a long time. Viking sondes found no life on Mars. OK, maybe there used to be life on Mars, at least microbial life? Newer sondes with better instruments find no evidence of that either. If there was, wow, it's done an exceptionally good job of dying out without trace (considering the extremophiles we know from Earth). Now maybe there's life deep in the crust?

      Maybe not. And maybe still more excuses will be made if that too fails to pan out.

      • Not even life can make up for what Mars does not have as compared to Earth. It has a far lower gravity and virtually no magnetic field, meaning any dense atmosphere is going to essentially be eroded into space. As I said in another post, the Mars of today is not the Mars of 4 billion to 3 billion years ago, and it seems more and more likely that its early conditions were no more inhospitable to the evolution of life than Earth's (being further away from the Sun it may even have been able to form bodies of l

        • by khallow ( 566160 )

          Stating that life is going to leave a monstrous footprint on the surface of a planet is a pretty major assumption, that I think at this point is unwarranted.

          I think it's reasonable to assume that any life on Mars would be self-replicating and subject to evolution (which isn't Earth-centric). Meaning that it would adapt to a variety of living conditions over time.

          Given that the extremophiles which live deep underground and survive in very marginal environments on Earth are genetically tied to some of the earliest organisms indicates to me that metabolic processes of Earth organisms were among the earliest things to be optimized and that there probably was som

        • Stating that life is going to leave a monstrous footprint on the surface of a planet is a pretty major assumption, that I think at this point is unwarranted.

          But on earth, the footprint is truly monstrous, touching the atmosphere, every part of the surface, and deep into the crust. The carbon cycle even takes a trip down into the mantle via subduction of limestone. I agree, it's not necessary to believe it would have been that omnipresent on Mars. But how reasonable is it to believe it would be totally unde

      • by Anonymous Coward

        or perhaps that there is life on Mars, but it is a dying planet, with an extremely limited biosphere in which dwindling amounts of extremophiles are pushed to the limit.

    • Wait, I think that could be a Slahdot poll...

      It definitely not a Jahdot poll, mon... :p

    • Planet-to-planet to a couple places within one solar system is feasible. However, if we end up discovering that not every potentially habitable niche in our own solar system is (or at least has been within recent geological history, prior to some particular ecological disaster) absolutely teeming with life, then the interstellar hypothesis becomes quite unlikely. If life-supporting planets are spewing out space-hardy life seeds at a high enough rate to chance upon planets in solar systems several light-year

  • by Dr. Spork ( 142693 ) on Monday April 08, 2013 @05:20PM (#43395199)
    At this point, we've learned enough about the hardiness and versatility of microbes that I would frankly be surprised if we found a completely sterilized Mars. In the history of the planet, many rocks knocked loose from Earth have landed there, and we know many organisms that could have survived the whole trip. If absolutely nothing took root, I would consider that a mild surprise. With extremophiles being found at pretty much everywhere we looked, we should be ready to find terrestrial extremophiles living even on Mars. That's definitely worth a few articles and TV specials, but it wouldn't really change the way we see the universe. Much more exciting would be to find Martian life of a totally independent genesis. Somehow I find that deeply unlikely, given that life genesis seems to only have happened once even in a place as comfy as Earth.
    • Me -- I want some proof.

    • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Monday April 08, 2013 @05:41PM (#43395385) Journal

      Life happened when Earth was in general far far less comfy to life than it is now. Mars likely had similar conditions very early on, but for a number of reasons (lower gravity, lack of magnetic field), it lost the thick atmosphere that would have made liquid water possible for extended periods of time on its surface. The hypothesis is that Mars may have evolved a biosphere during that period when it possessed a dense atmosphere and liquid water. In that case, even after most of the atmosphere disappeared, some portion of the biosphere that had adapted to living deep underground would have continued on even after the surface of the planet had been rendered completely uninhabitable.

      And, of course, we do not know for certain that the entire surface is uninhabitable. We have a damned small sample size, and have landed no probes in places like Valles Marineris, where the atmosphere is considerably denser and liquid water may last longer (we have observed fog there). If I was looking for life closer to the surface, I'd bee doing it in the deepest points of Valles Marineris.

  • NASA these days is staying alive more by issuiing a weekly
    PR-bulletin than by good old scientific or technological achievement.
    It's their Swan-song, in a way.

  • So is that what we need to do to smoke them Mars critters and varmints out . . . ?

    And maybe some natural gas, on the side, to power our Mars colonies . . . ?

  • There is no life on Mars. Stop dreaming.

  • We'll strip mine the other planets later.

  • If MSL could find a fresh crater, it might have a chance to sample potential microbes / organics before the UV and peroxides break them down. The craters left by the tungsten EDL weights would be ideal but their craters are too far away....
  • Here [slashdot.org] is my second comment entitled "Life IN Mars"; my original comment on this was so long ago that it has vanished. Let me merely add that eventually we will find life inside almost every extra-terrestrial planet-sized-or-larger object (assuming we get there), with the probable exemption of solar objects.

  • 'This organism has had to figure out everything on its own,' says Amend, 'it splits water into hydrogen and oxygen for metabolism.'

    It's hard to believe that geochemist Dr. Amend said that about Desulforudis Audaxviator, since D. Audaxviator is completely intolerant of oxygen, and its sulfate reduction mechanism is right there in its name!

    If anyone had bothered to follow the links in that discovery.com article, they would have found this useful article [mst.edu] that quotes the original discoverers of Desulforudis

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