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Mars Orbiter Finds Evidence For Ancient Rivers, Lakes

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the shouldn't-the-red-sea-be-on-the-red-planet dept.

Mars 130

Cowards Anonymous points out news that studies based on data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have found that vast regions of Mars contained rivers and lakes when the planet was young. The studies also suggest that the water existed for quite some time, often in standing pools, which are conducive to the formation of basic organic matter. NASA provides a color-enhanced photo of a delta within a crater. Quoting: "The clay-like minerals, called phyllosilicates, preserve a record of the interaction of water with rocks dating back to what is called the Noachian period of Mars' history, approximately 4.6 billion to 3.8 billion years ago. This period corresponds to the earliest years of the solar system, when Earth, the moon and Mars sustained a cosmic bombardment by comets and asteroids. Rocks of this age have largely been destroyed on Earth by plate tectonics. They are preserved on the moon, but were never exposed to liquid water. The phyllosilicate-containing rocks on Mars preserve a unique record of liquid water environments possibly suitable for life in the early solar system."

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130 comments

Send the invading starships now! (4, Funny)

2.7182 (819680) | more than 4 years ago | (#24253417)

Their obviously an underground civilization. Will make excellent troglodytes. Get their corbamite!

Re:Send the invading starships now! (1)

dreamchaser (49529) | more than 4 years ago | (#24253571)

The only way we'll get the will of world Government to do so would be if they have oil.

Free Mars! (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#24253605)

"Quaid.......start the reaaacctoorrr..."

Martian Vampires (2, Interesting)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 4 years ago | (#24253923)

Mars is teeming with vampires in underground caverns. They've covered the surface with a layer of blood dust to protect themselves from the Sun's rays. It's time to start arming our probes and orbital satellite bases with SOLASERS, to focus the Sun's power through cracks we dig in their defenses.

Otherwise, the biters will just ride back to Earth our probes, and raise their earthling cousins into an army to destroy us while the Sun's back is turned.

too bad (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#24253439)

I guess the Martians didn't have enough powerboats and jetskis to create greenhouse gases to keep the planet warm enough to keep those rivers and lakes..

Re:too bad (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#24253453)

They had plenty of greenhouse gases. The problem was that after the geomagnetic field of Mars was lost, the solar wind was able to strip away the atmosphere, leaving it today at about 5 to 10 millibars (in contrast with the Earth which is about 1000 millibars).

John Gray was right (2, Funny)

Save_Clippy (1254358) | more than 4 years ago | (#24253487)

This proves that men really are from Mars.

Re:John Gray was right (2, Funny)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 4 years ago | (#24253675)

It would explain why the planet is now a barren wasteland now... we used up all the water for brewing beer.

but Venus has no life (5, Funny)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | more than 4 years ago | (#24254429)

but the fact that Venus has no signs of life proofs that women do not really exist and are just the results of a fevered imagination. This handily explains why slashdot, a bastion of clear thinking, has no women.

but Venus is hot! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#24255983)

the fact that Venus has no signs of life proofs that women do not really exist and are just the results of a fevered imagination

That fever is not imaginary --- Venus is extremely hot! (Around 460C.)

How this relates to women I have no idea.

Re:but Venus has no life (1)

Amorymeltzer (1213818) | more than 5 years ago | (#24257675)

And... what? We're all just the pitiful remainder of the once-vast numbers of Martian Men who fled after the ancient battle with Bugs Bunny?

Noachian Period? (4, Funny)

lottameez (816335) | more than 4 years ago | (#24253499)

What is that? Boy that sounds like a Cliff Claven quote if I've ever heard one. "Y'see Noam - it was back in the Noahchian period of Mahs when the mahtians would take baths in the wahtah and lakes. This has been proved with the phyllosilicahtes found up thah.

Re:Noachian Period? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#24253717)

Martian geological time [jps.net] is subdivided into a number of time periods [wikipedia.org] based upon major geomorphological features seen from orbit -- major crater basins, the density of craters (generally speaking, crater frequency was higher in the deep past -- as on the Earth's Moon), canyons and channels such as Valles Marinaris, and volcanoes. While it isn't possible to determine their exact numerical age, it is possible to figure out their relative age (i.e. the order of the events that made them). For example, the overlapping shapes of craters tells you which impact formed first. If a volcano has a crater on it, then obviously the volcano formed first and then the crater. If a channel is eroded into a crater, then the channel came after. That kind of thing. So, there's a reasonably detailed relative chronology for events on Mars, and this is divided into eras known as (from oldest to youngest) the Noachian, the Hesperian, and the Amazonian.

Using crater densities and the fact that rocks were recovered and dated on the Moon, it is possible to link the better-known chronology of the Moon to that of Mars. There are significant uncertainties of course, but generally speaking that allows people to estimate that the Noachian was from about 4.6 billion to about 3.5 billion years ago, essentially the time when the cratering frequency started to drop off on the Moon. There is ample evidence that at this time on Mars there was freely-flowing water on the surface, hence, "Noachian".

The pages cited above has some really nice charts and descriptions, and the wikipedia page has a map showing the distribution of the deposits of different ages.

Re:Noachian Period? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#24253907)

Oh yeah. This page at Malin Space Science Systems [msss.com] has a nice explanation of how the crater densities work to determine the age.

Very old article (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#24255475)

Oh yeah. This page at Malin Space Science Systems has a nice explanation of how the crater densities work to determine the age.

Indeed, that's a great little article, thanks.

However, it dates from 1994, and knowledge of Mars has increased enormously since then. I'd love to read something more up-to-date on the science behind Martian orbital reconnaisance, and about methods of analysis of the data from the various probes.

Isn't that an image from the Radiohead videoclip? (2, Interesting)

MRe_nl (306212) | more than 4 years ago | (#24253541)

All kidding aside, beautifull images, it's amazing to me that from searching for microscopic traces of water a few years ago we're now "finding data from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter revealing that the Red Planet once hosted vast lakes, flowing rivers and a variety of other wet environments that had the potential to support life."

Re:Isn't that an image from the Radiohead videocli (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#24253565)

Actually this was well known before. The detailed analysis by the recent probes and orbiters has only confirmed it and rejected some of the other theories to how these features formed (like the liquid carbon dioxide theory and the periodic floods on a dry planet theory).

Re:Isn't that an image from the Radiohead videocli (1)

MRe_nl (306212) | more than 4 years ago | (#24253631)

Well, maybe my "few years" > your "before" ; )
I hadn't heard about the periodic floods on a dry planet theory.
How would that work ? Subterranean seas, clouds only, extraplanetary h2o?

Re:Isn't that an image from the Radiohead videocli (3, Informative)

imipak (254310) | more than 4 years ago | (#24253777)

The gist is that as the atmosphere was stripped away and the grew too cold and low pressure for surface liquid water to persist for long enough to cause obvious landforms, it was going into underground aquifers and ice deposits. Every now and then a big transient source of heat (volcanic eruptions or magma plumes in the mantle, and impacts, basically) deliver a big pulse of thermal energy that melts a large quantity of water. Result, landforms like canyons, areas with very large boulders that were carried from "upstream" by the floods, etc. There are other causitive agents, eg collapse of crater-rim walls releasing lake water, ice damn collapse, Milankovic cycles warming areas, polar wander... (and if the new idea about the lowlands results from a gargantuan impact are correct, it seems likely that the upper crust migrated significantly over the planet to reach an equilibrium position with the lowlands at one pole or the other, the Tharsis bulge (Olympus Mons et al) near the equator, etc.

Re:Isn't that an image from the Radiohead videocli (1)

magarity (164372) | more than 4 years ago | (#24253779)

from searching for microscopic traces of water a few years ago we're now "finding data from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter revealing that the Red Planet once hosted vast lakes, flowing rivers
 
Think back even further and it's come full circle. When Mars was first viewed through telescopes it was 'the place is full of canals of water!' Then for a long time it was 'No, no way there was ever any water on Mars.' Now we're back to there having been lots of water.

Once had life, but no more (1, Interesting)

_Hellfire_ (170113) | more than 4 years ago | (#24253547)

I think that it's possible that we will (probably during our inevitable colonisation of Mars at some point) find evidence of bacteria on Mars that wasn't brought there from Earth. Especially if the theory of Panspermia is correct, and since Earth and Mars have been known to swap rocks every now and again, it's not a giant leap to imagine that an asteroid bringing life to Earth may have also brought life to Mars. Now, if Mars had standing pools of water, rudimentary bacteria could have existed at some point.

Of course given Mars' extreme cold, crap atmosphere and almost zero shielding against cosmic radiation, any bacteria that did land there may have died out instantly - I guess we'll either find evidence of really hardy bacteria or no evidence at all - but in that case could we really be certain that Mars *never* had life?

Re:Once had life, but no more (4, Interesting)

BlueParrot (965239) | more than 4 years ago | (#24253619)

Mars' magnetic field has not always been as weak as it is now. One theory is that as it's core cooled, the magnetic field vanished, allowing the solar wind to penetrate and blow away the atmosphere. If this turns out to be accurate it might be possible to teraform mars ( or rather, repair it ) by creating a magnetic field through artificial means.

Re:Once had life, but no more (1)

ilikejam (762039) | more than 4 years ago | (#24253885)

Finally, a use for the hard drive magnets we've all been collecting.

I've got a copy of War and Peace stuck to the freezer with one of those bad boys.

Re:Once had life, but no more (2, Interesting)

mbone (558574) | more than 4 years ago | (#24253961)

Mars' magnetic field has not always been as weak as it is now.

One hypothesis I have brought forward is that Mars might have a reasonably strong dipole and is in a magnet field reversal right now, making the field at this epoch very non-dipolar. That is improbable, but not outlandishly so, and I believe is consistent with the data.

Re:Once had life, but no more (1)

Randall311 (866824) | more than 4 years ago | (#24256821)

If this is true, does that mean that if/when the Earth's magentic field reverses polarity, we're boned? There has been evidence that the Earth has had the magnetic field reverse in the distant past (unsure of the rough estimate of when).

Re:Once had life, but no more (1)

imipak (254310) | more than 4 years ago | (#24255885)

Why yes, that's a fantastic idea; we'll just re-liquify the core and spin it back up. It's just a trivial matter of concentrating several magnitudes more energy than that generated by the whole of humanity in recorded history, in the middle of Mars. So what do you reckon, you think 2020 looks like a good aim point? 2050?

Re:Once had life, but no more (1)

toddestan (632714) | more than 4 years ago | (#24256823)

He didn't say he wanted to re-liquify the core and spin it up, dumbass. There would be other ways to create a magnetic field around Mars, many of them considerably easier (though any one would still be a major undertaking, naturally).

Re:Once had life, but no more (3, Insightful)

imipak (254310) | more than 4 years ago | (#24253725)

our inevitable colonisation of Mars

Look, we are never, never, ever going to "colonise" Mars. There's no reason to do it except SF fantasy wish fulfillment or too much time spent watching scientifically nonsensical films and books. IT'S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. James van Allen was right. There's no reason to go there when we can do anything humans can do with robots for a thousandth of the cost and risk. Yes, it's "slower" than spending a couple of hundred billion dollars over 20 years, but so what? Mars has been there for 4000,000,000 years; it's not going anywhere.

If you're very very lucky, your children or grandchilden may live long enough to see a manned landing; personally, I very much doubt it. Hmmm, I must get round to setting up that thingy on longbets.org ...

Re:Once had life, but no more (1)

Keill (920526) | more than 4 years ago | (#24253815)

Lol. You should never say NEVER about anything like this, since talking about unlimited timeframes for anything is not a very good bet. They used to say we'd never visit the moon - you know what happened there. Yes, it may take centuries, or even millennia to colonise another planet or moon, but since the moon and mars are the first on the list when such a thing actually occurs - I wouldn't say never.

Of course, if you meant 'in our life-time', then you'd probably be correct.

A relevant quote (4, Interesting)

dreamchaser (49529) | more than 4 years ago | (#24253869)

This is somewhat appropriate for this discussion:

"When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong."
--Arthur C. Clarke

Re:A relevant quote (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#24253973)

Simply not true. For example Linus Pauling thought that you can cure cancer with ascorbic acid, which is complete nonsense. And he's not the only example of old scientist getting a little bit strange.

Re:A relevant quote (1)

dreamchaser (49529) | more than 4 years ago | (#24254537)

I guess you missed the 'almost' part in 'almost certainly'. It's ok though; I know English is not the primary language for many /.ers.

Re:A relevant quote (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#24254609)

No I didn't miss it. And it's not even close to "almost certainly". Elderly scientists tend to get strange and often their prediction, be they positive or negative, are just wrong.

quite irrelevant, actually (0, Redundant)

speedtux (1307149) | more than 4 years ago | (#24255241)

Physically and scientifically, it's certainly possible to colonize Mars; nobody is disputing that.

The question is whether people are going to be willing to make the economic and social sacrifices to do it.

I don't think so. The societies that could afford it are so fearful, lazy, and self-absorbed that they will never finance colonization of other planets.

The only chance I see for colonizing other planets is if some large group of religious nuts makes it a priority. But given the general level of corruption in Christian and Muslim religious organizations, that's not going to happen either: churches want followers to sacrifice so that the church leaders can live it up, not to go to Mars.

Re:A relevant quote (0)

BlueParrot (965239) | more than 4 years ago | (#24255557)

"When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong."

That people would consider garbage like that insightful is a good reason why elementary logic should be taught at school. Consider:

elderly scientist A:
"It is impossible to travel to Mars."
elderly scientist B:
"It is impossible to be right when claiming it is impossible to travel to Mars."

By Clarke's rule both these scientists are likely to be wrong, so which is it ? It is about as naive as those peopel who claim you can never know anything with 100% certainty. If that was the case then we certainly couldn't know it ( at least not for sure ), and thus it falls over on itself. Note that "There are some things we CAN know with 100% certainty" does not cause similar difficulties. Indeed, a famous philosopher provided a quite insightful example, yet the naive continue to parrot Popper, even thou his claims are quite obviously self-defeating. It is remarkable how many educated people, even physicists, will believe in a paradox simply because it has become popular.

Re:A relevant quote (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#24256233)

"When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong."

That people would consider garbage like that insightful is a good reason why elementary logic should be taught at school.

That people take this anecdotal quote for something other than a funny anecdotal quote sheds some light on, well, on inhabitable darkness.

Additionally, this promotes the idea that reading comprehension should be taught at school. Everybody criticizing the quote as being incorrect didn't read the words "almost certainly" and "very probably", apart from not noticing it is no rule, but a rule of thumb.

clarify, and reconsider or re-phrase (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#24256483)

I read Slashdot's science discussions much, and enough to recognize your username as one often associated with insightful commentary and debunkings of idiocy (which I consider good in general and in which I occasionally even post a comment). But your post on this matter is very disturbing.

Note that Clarke uses qualifiers: "is almost certainly right" and "is very probably wrong". You seem to acknowledge this, and attack it directly:

It is about as naive as those peopel who claim you can never know anything with 100% certainty.

With some disingenuous rendition of GÃdel's Incompleteness Theorem:

If that was the case then we certainly couldn't know it ( at least not for sure ), and thus it falls over on itself.

Next, two gems in one:

Indeed, a famous philosopher provided a quite insightful example, yet the naive continue to parrot Popper, even thou his claims are quite obviously self-defeating.

(emphasis mine)
1) It is petty and dismissive of you to say that anyone who agrees with Popper is merely parroting him.
2) It is pithy sophistry of you to claim name the object of your derision while withholding the not only the name of your alleged counterexample, but the explicit example itself. Who and what are you even talking about? Do you mean to cite GÃdel as your philosopher, as I have inferred [this is an important concept]? Or do you mean to reference Hume and his denial of the value of logical inference?

Hume could certainly deny the value of inference, but he could not deny its efficacy.

It is remarkable how many educated people, even physicists, will believe in a paradox simply because it has become popular.

Please consider that there is another option; that educated people, even physicists, "believe in a paradox" not because it is a paradox not because they are uncritical or unphilosophical or stupid, but because upon careful consideration it is the correct and indeed the only tenable position. Bertrand Russel was no theist, but he wrote quite lucidly explaining why he was technically an agnostic and not an atheist. Feynman thought similarly:

"That is, if we investigate further, we find that the statements of science are not of what is true and what is not true, but statements of what is known to different degrees of certainty: 'It is very much more likely that so and so is true than that it is not true'; or 'such and such is almost certain but there is still a little bit of doubt'; or-at the other extreme-'well, we really don't know.' Every one of the concepts of science is on a scale graduated somewhere between, but at neither end of, absolute falsity or absolute truth.
...

This very subtle change is a great stroke and represents a parting of ways between science and religion."

The endeavor of science is all about making wise inference. Wise means both bold when appropriate but also cautious, and *never* certain, because there could always be a "black swan"; we simply don't know. That is why science can never be complete even in principle: if we were to acquire "all" knowledge, we wouldn't know it, and in any case thereby wouldn't have acquired all knowledge. Woops! Another paradox.

If you have an axe to grind with the proponents of special creation or with pseudo-science at large, I empathize. But it is by abuse of and use of misunderstandings of scientific inference that they flourish. Perhaps I have grossly misunderstood the nature of your post, but it seems to me that it is your understanding of science and epistemology that is incomplete, inadequate, and/or mistaken.

Re:A relevant quote (1)

xsadar (627057) | more than 4 years ago | (#24257373)

It is about as naive as those peopel who claim you can never know anything with 100% certainty. If that was the case then we certainly couldn't know it ( at least not for sure ), and thus it falls over on itself.

If we can't be 100% certain that doesn't mean we can't be 99% or even 99.99999999999999999999999999999% certain (at which point the uncertainty is probably negligible). I'm almost 100% certain of that. :)

Furthermore: My desk can't know anything at all. And if that's true, it can't know that it can't know anything at all. That's clearly no paradox however. It's lack of knowing it does not make it false. Likewise our lack of being 100% certain that we can't be 100% certain of anything doesn't make that false either (or true for that matter). Being 100% certain of that would be a paradox, but who in their right mind would assert (and mean it) that they are 100% certain that they can't be 100% certain of anything? Some may say they're almost 100% certain maybe, but not fully 100% certain.

Hmm... this discussion reminded me of a saying I've considered using as my sig before, and I think change to it, at least for a couple days.

Re:A relevant quote (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24257789)

That saying is fantastic, by the way. It's a good twist on (presumably) Socrates' quote.

Re:Once had life, but no more (1)

Jaktar (975138) | more than 4 years ago | (#24253867)

I wouldn't go as far to say that we'd [b]never[/b] colonise. If there were sufficient water we may be able to terraform. Would that take a hell of a long time? Yes. Will we send robots there first? Yes, but I think we should work on robots I can have sex with first then send some to mars.

Re:Once had life, but no more (2, Insightful)

mbunch5 (548430) | more than 4 years ago | (#24254031)

You seem to have the wrong conception of why people set out to colonize *anywhere.* It has nothing to do with science, but the desire of one group of people to live apart from another group, or make another group live apart from them. Or do you think the Puritans were that interested in studying the natural history and native society of the New World? Or the inmates that were shipped to Australia? The only thing holding back space colonization right now is the lack of technology. Once that technology becomes commonplace (if ever, I have to admit), it *will* be used.

Re:Once had life, but no more (1)

imipak (254310) | more than 4 years ago | (#24254813)

People's desires to live apart don't trump the laws of physics I'm afraid.

The technology you speak of IS a magic wand, not only by today's technological standards, but because of the laws of physics. Yes, yes, there are still some fundamental problems in physics remaining to be solved. I will grant you that if some super-Witten unifies relativity and The Quantum ((tm) pterry) and somehow finds a source of infinite free energy, lots of things become possible including colonising Mars, turning Pluto into a giant theme park, building a ring world, yadda yadda. However that chances of that happening are vanishingly miniscule. Much much less than my chance of winning the lottery (and I don't play the lottery.)

Wrong. No new physics needed (2, Informative)

Morgaine (4316) | more than 4 years ago | (#24256317)

People's desires to live apart don't trump the laws of physics I'm afraid

[If someone] finds a source of infinite free energy, lots of things become possible including colonising Mars

You're talking total tripe, because we don't need free energy nor wormholes nor warp drives nor any other nonexistent inventions nor any new physics to make travelling to Mars cheap and widely available. All we need is *time* (a lot of it) for our engineering systems to mature.

Travel is a matter of harnessing energy, and energy is plentiful. The earth's surface receives a bit less than 150,000 TW of solar irradiation, of which we harness and use no more than 18-20 TW (that's just 20, not 20,000), so there's no energy shortage at ground level. Add solar energy collection beyond the atmosphere to our capabilities and the available energy becomes effectively infinite. That also means that travel within the solar system will be effectively unlimited in an easily forseeable future. It's a sure bet. The sun isn't going to dim any time soon.

What we do need of course is many centuries of good solid engineering to develop such a capability, because creating an infrastructure for widespread space travel is not something that can be done in just a few decades. But it's coming for sure, because there are no reasons why it shouldn't come and ample reasons why people will want it ... no doubt it will be fueled by the lure of profits like everything else.

We certainly do not need a change in the laws of physics nor any magic transports. Stop talking crap.

(New physics will undoubtedly appear over the centuries, but current physics is more than enough as a foundation for universal space travel. Energy is the only hard constraint on space travel given by the laws of physics, which effectively means that we are not constrained at all, at least within the inner solar system.)

Re:Once had life, but no more (3, Insightful)

mikael (484) | more than 4 years ago | (#24254045)

The experts said, "mechanised rail travel was impossible because people would suffocate from the change in air pressure", then they said heavier-than-air flight was impossible", then they said "supersonic flight was impossible because the aircraft would shake itself apart". Up until 60 years ago, traveling between the USA and Europe was on the order of months of time, rather than hours.

But developing the technology to allow for high speed travel for long distances is an evolutionary process. Good examples are the evolution of sea-going craft from simple coracles, currachs, log rafts, then wooden ships, paddle-steamers, iron-hull craft up to ocean liners and nuclear powered air-craft carriers.

Any kind of interplanetary travel would be the same - protecting the crew from the elements (radiation) is the first obstacle, then there is the problem of propulsion over a long period of time. And then there is the actual process of manufacture if the vessel cannot travel from the surface of a planet.

Re:Once had life, but no more (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#24254515)

Some people use those same arguments to illustrate that we will one day figure out how to surpass the speed of light. While perhaps we may someday, the difference is that while there was never any evidence or rigorous empirical work done on the impossibility of rail and air travel, quite the opposite is true for the speed of light. Our entire technological world in its current form would not be able to exist without a finite speed of light at exactly 3x10^8. There was even a slashdot story about the consistency of mayonnaise being impossible without the current speed of light being what it is.

Re:Once had life, but no more (2, Informative)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 4 years ago | (#24255087)

... Up until 60 years ago, traveling between the USA and Europe was on the order of months of time, rather than hours.

Excuse me? Believe it or not, we had something better than sailboats, even before 1948. The great trans-atlantic passenger lingers (e.g. the Titanic) would go between the USA and Europe in under a week. In 1938 (70 years ago), the Queen Mary did it in 3 days.

Re:Once had life, but no more (1)

imipak (254310) | more than 4 years ago | (#24255757)

Those people weren't experts, even in the laws of science as understood at the time. They were idiots. Remember what Sagan said about Bozo the Clown?

Re:Once had life, but no more (1)

HungSoLow (809760) | more than 4 years ago | (#24254117)

I think it goes without saying that humankind will eventually need more living space than what is offered here on Earth. I guess we could expand habitation into the oceans on platforms, or force people to live in much close quarters than they would like. I suspect either way at some point we will need more real estate. That being said, perhaps space habitations would be the solution rather than colonization / terra forming.

Either way, whether the need for more real estate exists, the need to explore will be there. Why wouldn't we want to have habitations on the Moon, or Mars, or Venus, moons of Jupiter/Saturn? If you consider how much money and resource is wasted on total garbage here on Earth (Iraq, Media, Military in general) and assuming we solve the majority of problems here (poverty, crime) then what better endeavour than space exploration to spend our resources on? I agree, robots are a wise choice for the exploration, but why not include humans? Sure it's more expensive, but at the current dismal rate of hard-AI research, nothing will compare to direct human interaction!

I shudder at your comment "There's no reason to do it except SF fantasy wish fulfillment or too much time spent watching scientifically nonsensical films and books". Assuming the "New World" had no resources to speak of, would it have been a waste to explore the Americas? Just purely for the sake of human inquisitiveness? There doesn't need to be a dollar value attached to the unknown to make it worthwhile to explore.

Re:Once had life, but no more (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#24254455)

I think it goes without saying that humankind will eventually need more living space than what is offered here on Earth.

No--it goes without saying that humankind will eventually need to control its number in order not to overpopulate Earth. That's all.

Space migration? You will not migrate the billions that Earth can't sustain to Mars, at least not without completely exhausting our resources ...

Possibly mankind will move to space/Mars. But that means a few hundred or some thousands--not billions--of people will establish a new human habitat, kind of a backup. But this will not reduce or even shrink the net number of people on Earth.

Re:Once had life, but no more (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#24254867)

I think it goes without saying that humankind will eventually need more living space than what is offered here on Earth.

More growing-food-space? Sure! Yes! I can go along with that.

More living space? No. Not even close. We could comfortably fit trillions of people on the planet if we needed to, pretty trivially compared with colonizing Mars.

Re:Once had life, but no more (1)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 4 years ago | (#24255163)

I think it goes without saying that humankind will eventually need more living space than what is offered here on Earth.

Why would such a highly questionable assertion "go without saying"? The more we modernize, the less we reproduce. In the most advanced and prosperous nations on Earth today, population growth figures are already trending into the negative, and there's no reason to assume this won't be true for the rest of the world as they too achieve higher levels of development. It's quite entirely possible we'll be using less living space in 2200 than we do today, given that there's a good possibility there will be a few billion people less on Earth than there are now.

Of course, there's no guarantee that will happen, either. But the reverse certainly doesn't "go without saying". It's far from obvious that such high levels of population will ever come to pass.

Re:Once had life, but no more (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#24254333)

i guess you lost your point here.
There is not such a thing as sending asimo to mars.
Hi-tech chips are not shielded for that, and probably won't be. our hi-tech robots are too sensitive to that kind of travel, and will allways be, otherwise they will be extremely big and heavy, not energy eficient at all, and very prone to braking with anything.

Humans are allways a safer, cheaper, bet. And there will allways be enough idiots that wish to go even with risks, why build a whole robot if there is willing people to do crazy things?
Just make them sign a paper.

although you think it's stupid to risk a human life to go there, many people don't agree, and would do such a thing, so, you are wrong.

i say let the crazy nerds go ahead.

Re:Once had life, but no more (1)

cytg.net (912690) | more than 4 years ago | (#24254379)

well .. if human kind worked together like a swarm, a collective, then i suppose you could be right. But someone will get there first. someone will be king. The race is on!

Re:Once had life, but no more (1)

BrianRagle (1016523) | more than 4 years ago | (#24254717)

You are incorrect for many, many reasons. 1. Earth is a finite place, with a finite number of resources. 2. The human population has a reproductive capacity approaching infinite ability, barring accident or self-destruction. 3. Technologies allowing us to leave the planet are progressing well, and new competition from burgeoning space-faring countries like China will drive research for other countries. 4. Humanity WILL have to expand off this planet at some point and space stations are far more complex operations than merely building a shelter on a semi-habitable planet. 5. There will be a manned landing on Mars within the next 20 years, as a result of some of the reasons listed above and others, such as the seemingly innate human drive to push outward from our birthplaces.

Re:Once had life, but no more (1)

imipak (254310) | more than 4 years ago | (#24255809)

(1) and (2) are given. On (3) you are stonkingly, incredibly, stupefyingly wrong. You couldn't be more wrong if you'd set out to be Captain Wrong. (It's the "technologies" bit.) For starters, could you explain your solution to the Mach 5 problem? (No, I know you don't know what that is, I'm using it to illustrate my point, vis., that you are talking bollocks about something you know nothing about. Now go away and google and read for a few years.

Re:Once had life, but no more (1)

Mung Victim (821757) | more than 5 years ago | (#24257603)

For starters, could you explain your solution to the Mach 5 problem? (No, I know you don't know what that is

I googled "mach 5 problem" and I could only find ONE relevant reference to this subject. So I'm not sure this really proves anything.

For the record, it seems to concern slowing a manned craft down sufficiently to land on Mars, whereas the GP's statement was about "Technologies allowing us to leave the planet". Which isn't the same thing at all. So what's your point, exactly?

Re:Once had life, but no more (1)

fyoder (857358) | more than 4 years ago | (#24256047)

I think the best reason for going to Mars would be to establish a breeding population of humans off the earth as a kind of insurance policy against disaster.

I wish I could be as optimistic as you regarding the time frame for the first manned landing, but I don't see the political will anywhere for that (and I mean really, not some joker flapping his jaw like Big Mouth Billy Bass).

Re:Once had life, but no more (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#24254831)

Can a robot produce a human? Until then, we should, and almost certainly will, continue to shoot for Mars with Humans. As it is, I think that we will be there by 2025. I also suspect that China is shooting for it by 2020. As it is, they said that long march 5 would be done by 2013, and they just announced trial have started. By 2009, they will have a launching rocket similar in class to EELVs/Soyuz. My understanding is that they have already started on one to compete against the ares V.

Re:Once had life, but no more (1)

imipak (254310) | more than 4 years ago | (#24255847)

I think that we will be there by 2025.

fsm give me strength...

Are you aware that if we were to do a MSR (sample return) mission, the earliest possible launch opportunity is 2020/2022? There's considerable doubt whether anyone will evenpropose such a thing, for complicated technical reasons you can google up for yourself. But you think that three years after that, we're going to put humans on Mars.

Re:Once had life, but no more (2, Insightful)

bertok (226922) | more than 4 years ago | (#24254881)

Unfortunately the parent post is right - space colonization in the foreseeable future is unlikely for many reasons that somehow seem glossed over by the "true believers".

Lets face the cold hard reality of space - it is both cold and hard. There's nothing out there but rocks. Nobody wants to live on cold hard rocks. Some people might go there for science, or out of the curiosity of a tourist, but nobody will ever want to make a life there.

I'm sure of this because people already have the opportunity to go live on cold hard rocks that are far from civilization, right now, but don't. There are huge, unclaimed tracts of rocks right here on Earth. Most of Canada, Russia, and Antarctica is an uninhabited wasteland, despite massive overpopulation in other parts of the world. Heck, most of the continent of Australia is an uninhabited desert, so there's also a choice of warm hard rocks, if that's your preference.

Compared to any other place in space, these places aren't even that uninhabitable. There's usually some water, a breathable atmosphere, soil, gravity, real time telecommunications, and resources and equipment can be brought in a cost of mere thousands of dollars instead of billions. Yet despite these manifold advantages over space colonization, there's no popular demand for massive government spending to colonize these places. Why not?

Sure, it's not glamorous, but we can do it right now! We could, if we wanted to, colonize Antarctica. It wouldn't even be that hard, all the technology is available right now. We could move a billion people there if we had to. Does anybody want to though? Do you? Would you, right now, give up where ever you are, with your job, friends, family, and go live in a place like that? Or if you don't like the cold, you're welcome here in Australia! The desert has some really cheap land. You can buy a place the size of a small American state if you want to. Oddly enough, most of tens of thousands of immigrants that come to this country every year go to live in the larger cities. Not a huge demand for desert living for some strange reason.

Now let me put it this way - Mars is just like Antarctica, but much colder, much more remote, much harder to reach, much harder to come back from and there's no atmosphere. Not to mention that the return ticket for a family sightseeing tour these days is $1 Trillion*.

Living on Mars is totally irrational wishful thinking. Unless some miracle occurs like the sudden invention of cheap wormhole generators or anti-gravity or some similarly quick and easy way to get about becomes available, I just don't see it, and we can't make plans where step #1 depends on a miracle. Even given some cheap magic space transport device, every destination is still "Not Earth". Step #2 will be that anywhere we might want to go is instant-death-to-the-unprotected. Every little detail is lethal. Did you know that due to the lack of weathering, the dust on the Moon is microscopically jagged and razor sharp? It'll cut your lungs up if you breathe it in for any length of time. Just look up "silicosis" to find out all about the joys of that particular ailment. In comparison, the Australian Outback is so inviting that even the dust comes in a lung-friendly rounded format, but there's still places you can go where the next nearest person is 100km away. I don't see that changing any time soon, so why would anyone expect space to be colonized first?

* An estimate only, one that NASA keeps revising upwards. Before betting on cheap space travel, wait for the prices to actually start dropping first.

Re:Once had life, but no more (1)

Man On Pink Corner (1089867) | more than 4 years ago | (#24255049)

Look, we are never, never, ever going to "colonise" Mars. There's no reason to do it except SF fantasy wish fulfillment or too much time spent watching scientifically nonsensical films and books. IT'S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. James van Allen was right. There's no reason to go there when we can do anything humans can do with robots for a thousandth of the cost and risk.

Don't neglect the power of capitalism. There are people who will pay good money, and lots of it, to live on an entirely different planet from people like yourself.

Why? (1, Insightful)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 4 years ago | (#24253601)

This is all interesting. But what are the net benefits to mankind from the expansion of billions of dollars in Mar exploration? Was there water? Is there water? So what? Does any of this help address any of the many serious problems facing us here on Earth? Will we ever colonize Mars? Will a manned visit to Mars help societies problems in any way? Nope...

Re:Why? (2, Insightful)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#24253649)

Does every single thing you do help address the many serious problems facing us here on Earth, or do you occasionally do frivolous things that you enjoy? Yeah, that's what I thought.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#24254009)

Does every single thing you do help address the many serious problems facing us here on Earth, or do you occasionally do frivolous things that you enjoy? Yeah, that's what I thought.

Not ones that cost the taxpayers billions of dollars, no...

Re:Why? (1)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 4 years ago | (#24254911)

Well, it's one thing to be frivolous and have fun.

It's another thing for government agencies to raise my taxes and be frivolous on my dime.

I appreciate there's some tangible good and a fair amount of intangible good from, say, trying to send men to Mars in my lifetime... but I don't think it's nearly as much good as the trillions of dollars they'll be taxing people for. I can use my money for a lot of tangible and intangible good things as well.

Re:Why? (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#24255171)

I was specifically referring to sending unmanned probes (read the post I replied to), which have been something less than 0.1% of the federal budget and an even smaller percentage of GDP (are we measuring against government or society...). Unless you are incredibly, unbelievably rich, you, like me, probably contributed about $10 to the Mars missions (well, I probably contributed a great deal less than that...age, income, etc).

I see no reason to send people to Mars. I can see some purpose in a one-way hope they survive for a long time mission, but the costs otherwise are pretty much insane.

Re:Why? (1)

imipak (254310) | more than 4 years ago | (#24253807)

But what are the net benefits to mankind from the expansion of billions of dollars in Mar exploration?

  • Those dollars are spent on Earth, you realise?
  • Are you aware of the relative sizes of NASA's budget and the USG total budget?
  • Are you aware than America spends more on cigarettes in a year than the entire NASA budget?

By the way, I think you'll find there's an "S" at the end of "Mars".

Re:Why? (2, Informative)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 4 years ago | (#24253943)

Short answer: all eggs in one basket.

Earth wasn't always the almost paradise for human-like life that is still a bit today, almost all life was wiped several times in earth history. And that, without our "intelligent" intervention (why wait for a huge asteroid or a snowball earth period if we can destroy it all faster?). Don't waste money in this and humans will become a rich, but unfortunately extinct, race.

One of the ways of having a backup is to be also somewhere else, preferably self-sustained. Exploration could give answers to this, can our life be sustained on Mars? Of all other planets in the solar system, mars is the best bet so far. And if not, could end being a good place to get mass resources (for i.e. building massive enough self-sustained space stations) without worrying about ecology here.

Even without watching it as a future colony, exploration could lead us to new discoveries, new knowledge that could prove to be useful, or even essential, for our future.

Yes, this can be done later, but at some point later will be too late.

Re:Why? (2, Funny)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#24254353)

Mars as a backup for Earth is a pipe dream, a crack-pipe dream.

Re:Why? (1)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 4 years ago | (#24254401)

<quote><p>Mars as a backup for Earth is a pipe dream, a crack-pipe dream.</p></quote>

Suggest another one, and is not a backup for earth, just for us.

Re:Why? (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#24254509)

There pretty much isn't one. (and humans need food, so backing us up requires backing up ecosystems, especially if you want to do it over extended periods; at a minimum, you need pollination and such, a lot of people would be very unhappy without at least a little diversity in their diet, so you probably need milk and meat).

Sure, we could probably, at a cost of trillions of dollars, put a few hundred people on Mars with the resources they would need to live a few decades (I mean the resources that they would need to start with to sustain several decades, not all the resources they would need). I don't see how it is worth it at this point, maybe when technology gets better it can become a goal, but with current technology, it simply isn't worth thinking about.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#24255121)

"maybe when technology gets better it can become a goal, but with current technology, it simply isn't worth thinking about."

What kind of thinking do believe drives the creation of new technology?

Re:Why? (1)

imipak (254310) | more than 4 years ago | (#24255929)

What makes you think the laws of physics owe humanity a "backup for earth"?

Re:Why? (1)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 4 years ago | (#24256379)

Laws of physics forbid humanity or at least enough of it to go somewhere else?

We lack the technology to terraform mars (at least now, afaik), but if enough base materials are there, probably would be easier to put something self sustained there than in i.e. moon or a space station. In fact (i think i said exactly this in a prev related discussion) whatever we research to help us live in as extreme environments as mars, could help us to live here too, if things go wrong.

There are maybe more urgent things to solve down here, but if something bad big enough happens, in the end won't matter. Or we can just worry about the present, as always will be something that could be considered more urgent than what really matters.

Last, but not least, sometimes the journey is as important as the destination. Some NASA spinoffs [thespaceplace.com] proved that space exploration helped down here in earth. Who knows what Mars could bring.

Re:Why? (1)

Latinhypercube (935707) | more than 4 years ago | (#24256099)

If we found life on Mars I think it would massively reshape humanity's centrist view of the universe. It could possible wipe religion off the face of the Earth. It could encourage us to protect our own planet. It might refocus humanity on space and the exploration of it. ie. Life on Mars would very much effect life on Earth.

Clearing up some details (5, Interesting)

imipak (254310) | more than 4 years ago | (#24253657)

"'scuse me, 'scuse me, officer JPLNazi coming though... "

...vast regions of Mars contained rivers and lakes...

This has been OLD NEWS since the Viking orbiters, more than thirty years ago, though thanks to the demands of the mass media, the goldfish-like attention spans of the general public and the rigours of academic tenure, publishing, and funding rounds (not to mention PR teams at academic institutions, who often seem to know jack shit about the subject they're writing a press release on) it gets recycled every time there's a water-related Mars discovery. I'm sure I've seen three or four water-related stories based on MER (rover) research, then there's the Mars Express data, Mars Odyssey's spectrometer data (hint: why do you think Phoenix happened to land somewhere where there's water ice 5cm below the surface - luck?). Oh yeah and of course Phoenix is just about to drop ice scrapings into the TEGA oven [planetary.org] and cook out any water, carbonates, in fact everything else that vaporises at less than 1000 degrees C.

The significant aspects of the two new papers (one in Nature, on in Nature Geoscience) are indeed the phyllosilicates, more commonly known as clay minerals. (if you're thinking of the clay in your back garden, imagine it after lying in an Antarctic dry valley for a three plus billion years, in a near vacuum, and hammered with UV. To the layperson this is what Arthur Dent would have identified thusly: "well, it's rock, isn't it?" It adds to the evidence for medium-term (up to 10^6 years) periods of free-standing or flowing water on the surface at essentially every scale, from regional morphology such as flash flood outflow channels, river deltas, coastlines and the like down to rock formations that are clearly indurated, contain silica minerals (google 'Spirit Tyrone') or haematite (blueberries, which are concretions formed in water-saturated rocks) and vugs (voids left by water-soluble crystals.) When you wet particular kinds of rocks that Mars is known to have a lot of, you get clays (phyllosilicates) as a result.

By the way the NASA image isn't

"colour enhanced"

-- that's CRISM data overlaid on a visible-wavelengths image. (CRISM is a spectrometer and is the instrument that ID'd these minerals.)

...standing pools, which are conducive to the formation of basic organic matter.

This statement is, uh, mistaken. What it's getting at is the notion that long periods of exposure to water is generally considered to be probably very very important if not essential to early life. ("organic matter" would be anything with a carbon atom in it, e.g. coal, plastic, methane, oil... it's one of those words that means something totally different in particular scientific context. Like "metals" (tho' that means at leat three different things to different sciences...)

Much much more at a popular search engine near you.

Re:Clearing up some details (2, Interesting)

gregbot9000 (1293772) | more than 4 years ago | (#24254653)

The question I want answered is where the hell did it all go? Did it evaporate into space, or is it all stuck in the ground?

If they can scrape the ground and uncover ice, thats like frozen mud. If they were to heat up the soil would it become mud and return to the state the planet was in eons ago? And are there any extremophiles that could thrive, and eventually brings mars to the point where we could grow asparagus?

It would be a lot cooler to just launch canisters of bacteria, plants, and bugs to mars for a hundred years then have people wander around then leave.

Re:Clearing up some details (2, Informative)

imipak (254310) | more than 4 years ago | (#24254779)

No. If you wield a magic wand and warm the planet to the point that the polar caps and underground ice melts, you've only got a few thousand / tens of thousands of years before it's all boiled off into space. Low gravity, no core magnetic field.

Re:Clearing up some details (3, Informative)

BoldlyGo (1288070) | more than 4 years ago | (#24254731)

This statement is, uh, mistaken. What it's getting at is the notion that long periods of exposure to water is generally considered to be probably very very important if not essential to early life. ("organic matter" would be anything with a carbon atom in it, e.g. coal, plastic, methane, oil..

Coal, plastic, methane, and oil are all byproducts of life. Coal is from plants, plastic is from humans, the vast majority of methane is from biogenic sources, and oil is from plants, animals, and bacteria.

The only carbon product you mentioned that might be formed without life is methane. The formation of methane usually involves water as either a reactant or product. In fact, simply burning methane produces water.

I don't think there is anything wrong with the statement you are disagreeing with" standing pools, which are conducive to the formation of basic organic matter." It's possible water isn't a necessity for life and substantial quantities of carbon compounds. But, that statement simply asserts that water is conductive to the formation of carbon compounds, this is definitely the case.

NASA is doing it all WRONG! (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#24253705)

NASA needs to say they have found evidence of OIL on Mars.

Cheney and his neocon buddies will start to drool. Dick Cheney will order Bush to fund a mission to Mars. Bush will say that God told him that they need to liberate the Martians.

NASA gets unlimited budget - will come out of the DOD's budget.

WIN/WIN situation!

Re:NASA is doing it all WRONG! (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 4 years ago | (#24253851)

No, you are doing it wrong! Hubble Space Telescope has found OIL at Alpha Centauri! Quick, send a manned mission there! (Better yet, tell them that Osama is hiding there as well.)

Taking it To the Streets (3, Insightful)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 4 years ago | (#24253903)

These cheap landers with specialized probes show just how much more powerful our science can be when we interact with its subjects through matter-on-matter operations, rather than just interacting with energy as we do in telescopes, or interacting with information as we do in simulations.

When we actually send a human to Mars, a "generalized probe" with sensory and mechanical amplification equipment, we'll really be getting to work, down to brass tacks.

Why go there (1)

wikinerd (809585) | more than 4 years ago | (#24254505)

Some people say why go to space and let's focus on human problems on Earth. I am really fed up reading such comments, especially on fora where I would expect people to have other interests than food and playgirls. These people are obviously not nerds. Non-nerds's only interest in life is to eat well and live well, but nerds go beyond that. Nerds have passions: they are passionate about inquiring. Nerds want to know everything and not knowing the history of Mars is a very real problem for a nerd. A nerd is a machine posing questions and seeking answers for them, and unanswered questions act like real torture on the nerd's brain. Thus, by going to Mars and more closely examining its history, the nerds can solve the very real problem (for them) of not knowing everything about Mars.

And don't laugh, without nerds your societies would be still in the dark ages, praying to FSM for rain and trying to cure people with talismans. It is thanks to nerds that you today have highways, computers, and aeroplanes.

Of course I am not saying that passion for knowledge should be the sole reason for spending euros in research. Practical considerations are important as well, and space science does indeed help solve human problems, as scientific research always has secondary uses in other fields.

Earth had it too (1)

Iamthecheese (1264298) | more than 4 years ago | (#24254871)

It has long been thought that earth's earliest years were dry, but recent research suggests [nasa.gov] that 4.3 billion years ago earth had liquid water.

Is it news? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#24255029)

I don't mean to troll, but honestly- who considers 'evidence of water' on mars news today? Does anyone have any doubts? I mean, we're about to, if we haven't already, scoop up a big pile of ice and analyze the contents. Do we need further evidence of water on mars? Yes yes, we should continue to do science...but not report it as evidence. That's like saying a study of tigers in Africa is evidence of life on Earth. Yes, we know there is life on Earth...spin it another way.

At this point, I think it will be obvious when we find microbial life on Mars and I'll really be irritated when I hear "evidence of life on mars" when its a few micro-organisms. What I want to hear about is the more complex life that is likely living underground. I have little doubt that if we ever make it to Mars and dig down or explore some of the caverns and lava tubes, we'll find all sorts of complex life surviving. Arthur C Clark had little doubt either...

Early wet Mars versus late wet Mars (2, Interesting)

mbone (558574) | more than 4 years ago | (#24255335)

These articles rarely mention that there are two camps in the scientific community, one of which is largely American, and rejects any evidence for recent liquid water on Mars, and the other of which is more European, and accepts it.

The Mars cratering model [psi.edu] indicates that a billion year old surface on Mars should have multiple 100 meter craters per square kilometer, and maybe ten 50 meter craters per square km . Basically, if you see a picture of the Martian surface, and there aren't lots of little craters on it, then that is not a billion year old surface, regard of what the press release says. It isn't hard [arizona.edu] to find such images. Here is another [arizona.edu], and another [arizona.edu].

Re:Early wet Mars versus late wet Mars (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#24257079)

These articles rarely mention that there are two camps in the scientific community, one of which is largely American, and rejects any evidence for recent liquid water on Mars, and the other of which is more European, and accepts it.

Oh, please. The water question is moot. The guys at Ames already determined the existence of life on Mars years ago.

(mbone gets the joke.)

Abundance scale? (1)

katakomb (1328459) | more than 4 years ago | (#24255945)

Do the actual scientific articles have quantitative scales that express mineral abundances? Otherwise, what's the point of figures such as those given in the press release? Can't we do better than "green means clay is present"? Clays form very readily from common minerals (like feldspars) and are likely to be present to some degree everywhere on Mars (as with oxides and other secondary minerals). How much is "a lot"?

Fossils (1)

turgid (580780) | more than 4 years ago | (#24256905)

I'm willing to bet that one day we will dig up fossils on Mars. The only problem is that no one wants to go there and no one cares. If I were a ruthless billionaire I'd be financing a sample return mission (probably personned).

Alas, I have no money, I'm a looney and the doctor gives me pills, so I will probably have to be content with watching the Human Race exterminate itself due to medieval religious superstition coupled with racial intolerance.

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