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Bacteria Could Survive In Martian Soil

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the only-if-they-use-a-portion-of-their-cunning dept.

Mars 90

Dagondanum writes "Multiple missions have been sent to Mars with the hopes of testing the surface of the planet for life — or the conditions that could create life. The question of whether life in the form of bacteria (or something even more exotic) exists on Mars is hotly debated, and still lacks a definitive yes or no. Experiments done right here on Earth that simulate the conditions on Mars and their effects on terrestrial bacteria show that it is entirely possible for certain strains of bacteria to weather the harsh environment of Mars." Perhaps this is something that will be tested further in a few years by the Mars Science Lab, also known as "Curiosity" and (as reader Nova1021 points out) "the Mars Action Hero."

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90 comments

first post (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29950748)

.NET is better than Java.

Windows 7 is better than Linux, and unlike Macs doesn't require a gay fascist computer.

I am better than you.

What are we waiting for? (4, Insightful)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | more than 4 years ago | (#29950818)

Sounds like we should get started with the terraforming.

Re:What are we waiting for? (4, Insightful)

MBGMorden (803437) | more than 4 years ago | (#29951524)

They're waiting on that definite answer to life existing on Mars. If bacteria can survive there and we seed the planet, then we will never know for sure if life ever existed there independent of our own additions. Anything that we find that might have previously been there would always hold the possibility of just being a mutated strain of the life we sent ourselves.

Have we not already (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29954858)

seeded Mars with our dirty landers feet?

Re:Have we not already (1)

MBGMorden (803437) | more than 4 years ago | (#29955264)

Not likely. Particular care is taken to ensure that the landers are devoid of any life that may contaminate the system.

Re:Have we not already (1)

HTH NE1 (675604) | more than 4 years ago | (#29966268)

Particular care is taken to ensure that the landers are devoid of any life that may contaminate the system.

Hasn't Deinococcus radiodurans already successfully hitched a ride on space probes despite decontamination and sterilization procedures, accidentally trapped between two layers of glass, and surviving hard space radiation to a return to Earth?

The first positing that I recall of Earth having already seeded Mars with bacterial life was in the 1983 Timothy Bottoms-starring movie Tin Man (not available on DVD).

Re:What are we waiting for? (2, Insightful)

spydabyte (1032538) | more than 4 years ago | (#29951682)

they're waiting for a reason. Tell me the target market for "it's just awesome." and "why not?"

Until we see an intergalactic threat, I doubt we'll see the kind of R&D needed to really accomplish this.

Re:What are we waiting for? (3, Informative)

Metasquares (555685) | more than 4 years ago | (#29951844)

That's just the thing - we might not see it until it's too late. One strong gamma ray burst could just wipe us out and we wouldn't even know it was coming until the moment it arrived. It's not about responding to an imminent threat, but being prepared to recover from one that may occur at a later time. Right now all of our data is on one hard drive. We need to make a backup.

Re:What are we waiting for? (4, Insightful)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 4 years ago | (#29953042)

Any extrasolar threat large enough to COMPLETELY sterilize Earth is likely to do the same to Mars.

(Not that I otherwise disagree with the sentiment.)

Re:What are we waiting for? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#29954044)

Any extrasolar threat large enough to COMPLETELY sterilize Earth is likely to do the same to Mars.

And is likely to completely sterilize any other colony in the Solar System as well.

Re:What are we waiting for? (1)

FlyingSquidStudios (1031284) | more than 4 years ago | (#29955430)

And probably any nearby solar systems we could reach in any sort of reasonable time as well.

Re:What are we waiting for? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#29955832)

Eh, could be something local to the Solar System, like dropping a sufficiently large black hole into the Sun.

Re:What are we waiting for? (1)

HTH NE1 (675604) | more than 4 years ago | (#29966454)

"You blow up one star and suddenly everybody expects you to walk on water." -- Samantha Carter, SG-1

Re:What are we waiting for? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29965460)

Mars is the beginning. This corner of the universe is dotted with terraformable candidates beyond the Solar system. They are unihabited by intelligent life (most likely most are). Mars is the stepping stone beyond the Moon. It provides an outpost to pull in resources from the Asteroid belt, and begins our expansion into the universe. 'Be fruitful and multiply, spread over the universe and bring life to it's sterile expanses'. it is what we are supposed to do.

Re:What are we waiting for? (1)

Narpak (961733) | more than 4 years ago | (#29951922)

Until we see an intergalactic threat, I doubt we'll see the kind of R&D needed to really accomplish this.

Unfortunately I reckon that if we see "an intergalactic threat" starting the R&D would be a bit on the late side.

Re:What are we waiting for? (1)

N0Man74 (1620447) | more than 4 years ago | (#29956738)

Oh the R&D for it might be late and underfunded, but I'll bet they'll make up for it in promotion and advertising!

Re:What are we waiting for? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29952190)

http://blueollie.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/you_are_here_galaxy.jpg

Re:What are we waiting for? (1)

Dragonslicer (991472) | more than 4 years ago | (#29952924)

Until we see an intergalactic threat, I doubt we'll see the kind of R&D needed to really accomplish this.

See, that's the problem. It doesn't require an "intergalactic threat" for us to be in trouble. We already know about one definite cause of Earth's destruction, and it's only about 93 million miles away. If we keep saying, "we have plenty of time," eventually it won't be true.

Re:What are we waiting for? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29956958)

they're waiting for a reason.

The reason is obvious! As we are destroying the planet we live on we should pass life onto the next rock along, just like the intelligent life forms of Venus did way back when.

Re:What are we waiting for? (1)

AP31R0N (723649) | more than 4 years ago | (#29951882)

There's a big problem with Mars when it comes to terraforming. Mars lacks a spinning iron core so it has no protection from the sun blasting away its atmosphere. We'd want to invent some way of keeping the air in place, otherwise we'd be terraforming something that will eventually be a barren rock.

** Just did a search and learned that scientists no longer think this is the case **

My plan for terraforming Mars was to have giant tanks of algae. Pull in the CO2, bring it to a temp the algae can survive, kick out the O2. Could use some portion of the algae for food and fuel. We might be able to have automated systems do much of this work (decades from now).

Re:What are we waiting for? (3, Funny)

CorporateSuit (1319461) | more than 4 years ago | (#29952346)

My father has a mutant strain of Vinca in his yard. We've found plants living for more than 6 months without water, light, and under extreme temperature swings (They were completely white, and were found practically boiling in their own juice when we uncovered them, but still very much alive) and some sections of the yard thrive on nothing but a steady supply of herbicides. That and the spearamint plants that cannot ever seem to be extinguished no matter how much they're cut down, dug up, and flattened, and the wild blackberries in the Southeast portion of his yard that made me think "Day of the Triffids" was a documentary of my life growing up. I always thought we should send samples of these plants to NASA for their consideration in terraforming anything.

The more I think about it, the less I'm convinced my dad is Batman, and the more I'm convinced my mom is Poison Ivy.

Re:What are we waiting for? (1)

AP31R0N (723649) | more than 4 years ago | (#29952500)

Indeed, there are strains of kudzu and similar vines that could make a living on Mars, Venus or wafting on updrafts in Jupiter.

Re:What are we waiting for? (1)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 4 years ago | (#29952732)

The problem is the reduction of greenhouse gasses, cooling down Mars.

I'd want to knock a few heavy rocks down on Mars first. After that, I'd want something to grow there that would pull oxygen (and nitrogen, is there much of that?) out of the soil to thicken the atmosphere, so lowering the greenhouse gases won't be so harmful.

Re:What are we waiting for? (1)

MBGMorden (803437) | more than 4 years ago | (#29952896)

I think the trick would be to increase the amount of greenhouse gases but to tip the ratio in favor of oxygen. If you tripled the CO2 content of Mars' atmosphere but then also released enough oxygen and nitrogen that the level of CO2 stayed at a very small percentage of the overall atmosphere then Mars would not only warm up but the air would be breathable.

Last I read though was that any terraforming would likely be temporary. There's a very good possiblity that Mars once did have life and eventually lost it, and naturally become the barren wasteland it did today. "Fixing" Mars by terraforming it wouldn't prevent that same trend from slowly reoccuring.

The upshot is that 100,000 years of terraforming might take several million years to regress back to an uninhabitable state (and that's left un-managed - with ongoing maintenance the terraforming could last until the sun becomes a red giant).

Re:What are we waiting for? (1)

werfu (1487909) | more than 4 years ago | (#29958410)

What isn't said is that water vapour is a far more efficient green house gaz than carbon dioxide. But first thing first, we need to engineer a bacteria that will survive in the harsh environment of Mars and grow into its soil, to release frozen CO2 and water. Once enough of both are present in the atmosphere, we'll be able to introduce plant that survive harsh, desert conditions. Finding the right bacteria is the only tough thing. Once we have it, seeding it is a matter of sending a rocket to the red planet. Once started, the process would have to reach a point where it can sustain itself. Its a matter of starting back the ecosystem that once rose began on Mars. Having the global temperature of the planet being elevated by only 1-2 Celsius degree could melt some more underground water, adding to the green house effect. This wouldn't be instantaneous, but it would mostly be done free of any mankind intervention except at the beginning. After a couple hundred years the condition will be fair enough to introduce plants and bugs, the air would start to become breathable. Its a long term process, but it can be done, fairly easily. The "gardening" task wouldn't have to be accomplish until many hundred years, and we can hope some technology to get to Mars fairly easily will have been invented.

Re:What are we waiting for? (1)

buchner.johannes (1139593) | more than 4 years ago | (#29952192)

We're already doing it on Earth and don't know how to control it nor what the consequences will be. So I'd be a little cautious about terraforming.

Infecting Mars with Earth-seeds seems quite harmless OTOH, and very interesting.

Re:What are we waiting for? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29953040)

Right on!
Even if Mars has bacterial life, it is irrelevant. We can plant life and terraform that area starting now. We could start by selecting key bacteria that provide a thicker atmosphere, then follow with lichens and work our way up. If Dr. McKay, NASA was right (and due to current findings looks to be true) we need only get to a tipping point before the frozen gases emitt quickly, making a more hospitable environment.
Survival of the species long term (especially my species, and any other species we bring with us...think lots of land for many animals pressed for space here), trumps worries about weather or not Mars has or has not bacteria of its own (prediction here...if we find them they will share systematic relation to ours...meteroids can make the swap putting ours there).
I say, lets concentrate on colonization now,get humanity more elbow room, worry about the paleontology later.

Re:What are we waiting for? (1)

thesandtiger (819476) | more than 4 years ago | (#29956612)

Terraforming is ridiculously inefficient compared to just building colonies out in space. Why tie up such large quantities of useful resources just to provide a surface to live on and mass to provide gravity, when for a fraction of those resources you can put a lot more people into space-based colonies and provide mass by spin?

I predict that if we ever do colonize off-world, planetary colonization will be an amusing sideline as opposed to where the bulk of people live. There are too many advantages to space-based habitats and too many disadvantages to sitting on a planet that isn't Earth.

Re:What are we waiting for? (1)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | more than 4 years ago | (#29956846)

If you are clever enough you should be able to do it with a relatively low resource investment by introducing the right type of microorganisms at the right time. Since those organisms will reproduce exponentially (given a sufficient quantity of food and energy) you can reduce the quantity you need to transport from earth to mars.

The tradeoff is that the process might take a few centuries. All the more reason to get started now.

FP (4, Interesting)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 4 years ago | (#29950824)

Allow me to be the first to point out that we already know that some bacteria can survive interplanetary space travel and life on the Moon.

Now the real question is, can these bacterias be formed on Mars?

Re:FP (1)

QuantumPete (1247776) | more than 4 years ago | (#29950886)

Pour a couple of hundred litres of water on the surface and see what grows!

Re:FP (1)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 4 years ago | (#29952912)

Go ahead and try that in the desert of Atacama.

Re:FP (4, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#29950918)

How is Bacterium formed?

How mars get pragnent?

Re:FP (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29951894)

How is Bacterium formed?

How mars get pragnent?

They need to do way instain shuttle. It was on the news this mroning, A bacteria in mars consumed its three cell divsions. They are takign the three cell waslls back to the earth to lady to rest. My pary are with the sceintists, i am truely sorry for your lots.

Re:FP (2, Insightful)

Daniel_Staal (609844) | more than 4 years ago | (#29950982)

They are probably using a slightly different definition of 'survive' in this case: instead of just holing up in the equivalent of a bacterium space suit, they feed, grow, and reproduce.

Re:FP (5, Informative)

reverseengineer (580922) | more than 4 years ago | (#29951318)

No, it looks like the same definition- the bacteria that survived did so by forming desiccated, nondividing endospores. The article mentions that the bacteria which didn't protect themselves with the endospore stage died within minutes. The two strains of bacteria they tested are of particular importance because they have been known to survive the Jet Propulsion Lab standard decontamination procedures, and so could take a trip to Mars. This paper [plosone.org] describes some of the DNA repair mechanisms that B. pumilus uses to survive under adverse conditions.

Re:FP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29951338)

What a weird question. You're asking if Earth bacteria can be formed on Mars? I would be quite surprised to see the same DNA sequence appear from two distinct evolutions. But why do you care about that? We don't even know if *any* life was ever formed on Mars.

Re:FP (2, Interesting)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 4 years ago | (#29953148)

Apparently you've never heard of Hodgkin's Law of Parallel Planetary Development [memory-alpha.org] .

Re:FP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29978648)

Lol, this is fiction. Like saying "apparently you've never heard of warp drive" to someone who says that FTL travel is impossible. Funny maybe, but interesting??

Re:FP (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 4 years ago | (#29951530)

Considering there's decent evidence to suggest that there was flowing water on Mars long ago, it's quite possible they formed then and survived until now. Life on earth is also apparently very old, according to the wikipedia article on abiogenesis "The oldest ancient fossil microbe-like objects are dated to be 3.5 Ga (billion years old), just a few hundred million years younger than Earth itself." We have extremely little data on what sparks life though, so much bigger window but possibly a much narrower target than our extremophiles. Doesn't really get proven on way or the other until we find life, or at least fossils, on Mars.

Re:FP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29952128)

I, for one, welcome our new bacteria overlords.

Re:FP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29953294)

I'm sticking with our old bacteria overlords.

Re:FP (2, Interesting)

mikael (484) | more than 4 years ago | (#29952206)

If bacteria can survive in the upper layers of the Earth's atmosphere, and chunks of atmosphere can be blown away by the solar wind, is it possible that such bacteria could make the journey from Earth to Mars?

Re:FP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29952738)

Somehow I find it unlikely a few bacteria can survive the (at least) 100-million kilometre journey from Earth to Mars.

p.s. captcha is "existing"

Panspermia (1)

fritsd (924429) | more than 4 years ago | (#29953494)

That's called the "Panspermia [wikipedia.org] " hypothesis.

Re:FP (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 4 years ago | (#29952650)

Now the real question is, can these bacterias be formed on Mars?

bacterium [dict.org] (singular), bacteria (plural)

Survive and reproduce? (5, Interesting)

pifactorial (1000403) | more than 4 years ago | (#29951084)

To my knowledge many species of bacteria can survive indefinitely in practically any environment, but not while actively metabolizing. I am curious whether any of the species the article is talking about could actually survive and spread, if they would just stick around for a while and die out, or if they would only survive in a dormant state.

Re:Survive and reproduce? (4, Informative)

careysub (976506) | more than 4 years ago | (#29951310)

To my knowledge many species of bacteria can survive indefinitely in practically any environment, but not while actively metabolizing. I am curious whether any of the species the article is talking about could actually survive and spread, if they would just stick around for a while and die out, or if they would only survive in a dormant state.

Bacteria definitely exist on Earth that can reproduce under conditions that exist somewhere on Mars, an example are the chemosynthetic bacteria found deep underground and are nourished by geothermal energy: http://www.planetary.org/news/2006/1027_Bacteria_Found_Thriving_Deep.html [planetary.org]

What this study is establishing is whether it is possible to recover viable organisms from the near-surface soil. Such organisms might thrive below the reach of the surface lander's probes, but still have inactive spores brought to near the surface through water welling up from deeper down (and possibly other processes). Evidence of surface water outflows have been found in various spots on Mars.

Re:Survive and reproduce? (1)

a_claudiu (814111) | more than 4 years ago | (#29953162)

Does it exist geothermal energy on Mars? "That subterranean world, Onstott said, is a lightless pool of hot, pressurized salt water that stinks of sulfur and noxious gases humans would find unbreathable."

Re:Survive and reproduce? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#29953982)

There are at least two possible geological power sources, thermal heat from Mars's interior (which is known to exist, though I doubt they have a good guess for the temperature versus depth curve). Given the evidence of past hydrothermal activity on the surface, this is likely to still exist. There are a huge number of bacteria species that exploit hydrothermal systems on Earth (for example, using hydrogen sulfide as food). And serpentinization [wikipedia.org] (the reaction of olivine with water to form serpentine. My understanding is that there are bacteria species that can exploit the serpentinization process on Earth. Given the presence of water and olivine bearing basalt on Mars, serpentinization is likely to occur and might explain the release of methane detected in Mars's atmosphere.

First Martian Explorer (3, Funny)

GargamelSpaceman (992546) | more than 4 years ago | (#29951098)

Buzz Lightyear steps off his lander to be the first human being on Mars. Six hours later, he is a puddle of goo. Two hours after that, all his crewmates are puddles of goo as well.

Re:First Martian Explorer (2, Funny)

jameskojiro (705701) | more than 4 years ago | (#29951120)

Welcome to Mars, Bring plenty of Lysol...

Re:First Martian Explorer (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29951672)

Buzz Lightyear steps off his lander to be the first human being on Mars.
Six hours later, he is a puddle of goo. Two hours after that, all his crewmates are puddles of goo as well.

If they figure out how to send radio signals it would be like ordering in pizza. It could end up a form spam e-mail. "Come to Mars we have a source of limitless energy", "Martians aren't bald we have a hair loss cure", "Viagra plants are a form of subsurface weed, free for the taking", "horny Martian women want to meet you", "prince of Mars needs help transferring money off planet, bring suitcases and lot of fat juicy people to carry them".

Re:First Martian Explorer (1)

smitty777 (1612557) | more than 4 years ago | (#29952100)

No kidding. I saw Mission To Mars too - we all know how that turned out. These bacteria will definitely mutate and eat anyone who comes out to check on them.

MMMORPG (0, Offtopic)

jameskojiro (705701) | more than 4 years ago | (#29951198)

Mars Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game:

Dumbest Question: How I Mine Microbes?

U.S. Could Have Economic Recovery: (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29951234)

News At 11.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Yours In Novosibirsk,
K. Trout

Surviving != life arising (1)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 4 years ago | (#29951280)

The fact that modern bacteria can survive in those conditions says nothing about whether life could arise or even evolve there. Its a bit like assuming that because cockroaches can survive high doses of radiation there's potential for a 6 legged lifeform to arise inside nuclear reactors.

Re:Surviving != life arising (3, Insightful)

careysub (976506) | more than 4 years ago | (#29951432)

The fact that modern bacteria can survive in those conditions says nothing about whether life could arise or even evolve there. Its a bit like assuming that because cockroaches can survive high doses of radiation there's potential for a 6 legged lifeform to arise inside nuclear reactors.

There are at least two serious problems with the objections offered above. First, no one supposes that life arose under conditions anything like Mars today, anymore than people suppose that new life is arising de novo on Earth today. Life would have arisen long ago under radically different (warmer and more moist) conditions. Second, not every study addresses all aspects of every question of science. In fact, none of them do! Criticizing a study for not examining a radically different question, not amenable to laboratory examination, and only distantly related to the one under study is simply perverse.

The point is: it does say something about whether viable Martian bacteria (if they exist) could be recovered from the near surface soil.

Epic Fail? (0, Flamebait)

kenp2002 (545495) | more than 4 years ago | (#29951470)

If that is the case then we have already failed. Any number of bacteria could have survived on the rovers could now be contaminating the surface. With no known competition they could be flourishing. I see little that can be done to figure out what is now native bacteria (if any) and what was brought via the rovers.

Re:Epic Fail? (3, Insightful)

AmonTheMetalhead (1277044) | more than 4 years ago | (#29951506)

Hello DNA!

Re:Epic Fail? (1)

hallucinogen (1263152) | more than 4 years ago | (#29951734)

The rovers were sterilized and even if they weren't we could most definitely figure out if supposed found bacteria from Mars where from there or Earth. All you have to do is to have a look at their ribosomes. Don't exist? Definitely not from Earth! Different to Earth ones? Definitely not from Earth. If they're somewhat similar to ones found from Earth then just sequence genome DNA. Pretty similar to something from Earth? Well then odds are that they're indeed from Earth. Otherwise you've got a Martian.

Re:Epic Fail? (4, Insightful)

Cocoronixx (551128) | more than 4 years ago | (#29951736)

If that is the case then we have already failed. Any number of bacteria could have survived on the rovers could now be contaminating the surface. With no known competition they could be flourishing. I see little that can be done to figure out what is now native bacteria (if any) and what was brought via the rovers.

Wow! Too bad the NASA/ESA scientists weren't as smart as you, because if they were they would have put policies [spaceref.com] in place to mitigate the risks of contamination.

Maybe life was already transplanted? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29951564)

Remember that the Earth has had several large impacts in the past, and that many of these events hurled tons of rocks and debris into space. Some of them at the proper angle and with enough force to leave orbit.

We have found extremophiles hibernating in air pockets within rocks that had been air tight for hundreds of years. Is it so much of a stretch to assume that some of these debris might have carried life from earth to another planet? Realize that Mars doesn't have anywhere near the same level of atmosphere as the earth. It isn't as protected against small meteorite impacts. I could easily imagine life originating from Earth arriving on another world in the form of microorganisms. It might not be Mars, but maybe Europa instead. Maybe Earth life is already spreading itself throughout the Orion Arm.

Disclaimer:
Distances in space reduce the chances of this scenario considerably. It really isn't that likely that this has happened. Even supposing that life survived the trauma of leaving Earth, it would most likely settle into a slowly decaying orbit and fall back down. Any impact powerful enough to send debris beyond the pull of earth's gravity would probably kill anything that lived within them. But that doesn't remove it from the realm of possibility, and it's still a nice thought.

Nice... (2, Funny)

moogoogaipan (970221) | more than 4 years ago | (#29951696)

Now, Matians will think we are creating a biological warfare. Well, it's been nice to post on /. over the past few years. See you all on the other side.

Re:Nice... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29952600)

Yeah, after all even HG Wells knew that bacteria could kill Martians in spite of theirtechnology.

Anti-anthropo-centric thinking (4, Interesting)

giladpn (1657217) | more than 4 years ago | (#29951782)

Why do we expect or hope that earth-like life forms will be found elsewhere?

The question of whether life in the form of bacteria (or something even more exotic) exists on Mars is hotly debated, and still requires a resolute yes or no

Ho hummm... We have had this debate going on since the "canals" were discovered on mars only to be debunked.

Once upon a time 600 years ago, people "knew" they are at the center of the universe. We were unique, chosen by heaven to lord it over the animals and created in the image of heaven. That was the view of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and also of the eastern empires (remember the "Emperor of Heaven") ?

Nowadays there is a large substantial minority of people whose thinking is guided by science. For this very substantial minority - debunking the "humans are at the center" myth is an article of faith. Finding the aliens - little green men or bacteria on mars - is important as an act of faith not just science.

It is important to separate real empirical science from the pseudo-science that is really an alternative system of belief. If we just look at empirical facts, the probability of finding life twice in the same solar system is not huge.

Anthropo-centric theology/philosophy was rightly debunked by Copernicus, Galileo, Darwin and Einstein.

Anti-anthropo-centric thinking equally deserves to be debunked. Science is about empirical evidence. Full stop.

Re:Anti-anthropo-centric thinking (2, Interesting)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 4 years ago | (#29953396)

What is your point? Most researchers have 'expectations' or 'hopes' about their research, that's what peer review is for, to make sure that their personal biases don't get the best of them. Why shouldn't we hope? And aside from your sociological anecdotes, why too should we not expect? I'll grant that the existence of adapted extremophile life forms on Earth is not in of itself credible as a foundation for thinking that such hardy things would spontaneously form out of the gate, but that's assuming that all life forms locally. There remains the possibility that very hardy strains can travel through space on debris.

I think any rational person would take exception to you claiming that a probability model about the formation of life (based on a sample size of ... ONE) as an 'empirical fact'. That would suggest you don't really know what empiricism is. Until we have surveyed larger portions of Mars and other parts of the solar system in greater detail, there are no 'empirical facts' about the presence or lack of life in any form.

Re:Anti-anthropo-centric thinking (1)

giladpn (1657217) | more than 4 years ago | (#29961990)

The currently known empirical facts are sketchy, but they include a few known data points: - the failure of radio astronomy to detect signals coming from other civilizations - the calculations being done by several people, based on evolutionary science and bio-chemistry, of the probability of life forming spontaneously These data are not much, that is true; but they are sufficient to make the estimate I made. I think that is also pretty rational; so no need to make comments about my "rationality" just because you do not like the conclusion.

Re:Anti-anthropo-centric thinking (1)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 4 years ago | (#29962412)

the failure of radio astronomy to detect signals coming from other civilizations

EM communications are probably not the most advanced [xkcd.com] method out there, not to mention that the idea that EM signals can travel indefinitely has been debunked. Even if there were signals out there, they probably wouldn't reach us intact. Add to this the 'Apes or Angels' [projectrho.com] view of development.

the calculations being done by several people, based on evolutionary science and bio-chemistry, of the probability of life forming spontaneously

Based again on a sample size of ONE. That's not science any more than the Drake Equation. Only in the last century or so have we finally figured out roughly how life formed here, once, and even that not completely, and now we want to pretend we can extend that rough understanding to billions or trillions of unexplored environments and unknown conditions? Really? NOT. SCIENCE.

Re:Anti-anthropo-centric thinking (3, Insightful)

Joe Tie. (567096) | more than 4 years ago | (#29953594)

Finding the aliens - little green men or bacteria on mars - is important as an act of faith not just science.

And that's where I think the flaw in your argument is. If it was faith, there wouldn't be a need to search for proof. The people on the other side are quite content to say "because, that's why".

Re:Anti-anthropo-centric thinking (1)

giladpn (1657217) | more than 4 years ago | (#29962024)

"Because, that's why" is a great answer, agreed, for a scientist pursuing his/her own personal vision. Albert Einstein at the Bern post office or a 100,000 other people use that answer, and it has delivered great results for humanity.

But in this case - its not a case of pursuing a personal vision. Obtaining empirical evidence would require a mission to Mars, and it can carry only so many experiments at so much cost.

Personally I am more interested in experiments that will shed light on - for example - planetary formation - then little green bacteria.

The moment the public has to finance the research, the public has the right to talk about its priorities.

The "life on Mars" science-fiction has been with us since the "Canals on Mars" bunk. Little green bacteria are one more step in that chain of debunked claims.

Its a faith-based process of prioritization, sucking up time and money that would be better spent elsewhere. Not a science-based empiricism-driven process. Enough already.

Re:Anti-anthropo-centric thinking (1)

holmstar (1388267) | more than 4 years ago | (#29983482)

You personally feel that information on planetary formation is more valuable than information on whether life exists/existed on another body in the solar system. There are a lot of people that would disagree. Those other people also have a portion of their tax dollars go to space science.

Besides, there is evidence that suggests the potential presence of life on mars, such as the presence of methane in the atmosphere. Methane should be short lived in the martian atmosphere, so its presence means that it is being actively released. As I understand it, life isn't the only possible explanation for the methane, but it is still a compelling reason to look.

Re:Anti-anthropo-centric thinking (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#29953808)

Why do we expect or hope that earth-like life forms will be found elsewhere?

It's successful physiology. The cell wall, for example, is a likely innovation for any liquid-based life form. Anything that has inheritable traits might sequester that information in some analogy to a nucleus. Any time when an organism is formed from multiple smaller organisms that learned to combine synergistically, is likely to have artifacts from that union like our cellular organelles or bacteria in the gut. Evolution is likely to exist in any self-replicating lifeform whether created through abiogenesis or sentient-made. Any instance of life is likely to have an identifiable ecosystem. And survival strategies like predation or parasitism, which have virtually no dependence on the nature of Earth-based life, is likely to be mirrored in any evolving ecosystem.

In my view, bacteria are a Turing machine of life. Anything we're likely to ever say is or could be alive can be duplicated, overall structure, strategy, and ecosystem, with genetically engineered bacteria, an appropriate environment, and appropriate rescaling of space and time. Be them computer viruses or green women from Orion.

Your concerns about the Anthropic viewpoint are in my view misplaced.

Re:Anti-anthropo-centric thinking (1)

XSpud (801834) | more than 4 years ago | (#29954424)

If we just look at empirical facts, the probability of finding life twice in the same solar system is not huge.

I'm interested as to how you come up with this conclusion - what are the facts that indicate a low probability?

As far as I am aware we know very little about abiogenesis - all we have are a few models describing how life might have started and until we know more, how can we say whether the probability of life on Mars at some point is low or high?

The reason we care about whether life existed on Mars is that it might tell us a bit more about how life started on Earth. There's really so little we know about conditions on Mars round about the time life started on Earth but it might be reasonable to assume there were some similarities - certainly there is strong evidence of significant amounts of water at some time.

Unless you think that the creation of life was a magical and/or incredibly unlikely event on Earth, there are good reasons for thinking that finding life on Mars might not be so unlikely.

Re:Anti-anthropo-centric thinking (1)

giladpn (1657217) | more than 4 years ago | (#29962072)

Umm, just to set things straight, I certainly don't think its about magic. Evolution happened. Maybe you believe Darwin was exactly right, maybe you are a neo-Darwinist looking to do better, but either way Evolution has plenty of empirical proof on its side.

We do have some empirical info. For example:
- the failure of radio astronomy to detect signals coming from other civilizations
- the calculations being done by several people, based on evolutionary science and bio-chemistry, of the probability of life forming spontaneously

These data are not much, that is true; but they are sufficient to make the rough estimate I made.

This is important for practical reasons. Missions to Mars can carry only so many experiments. I am saying, lets dump the experiment for "little green bacteria" and include a couple more likely to really teach us something new.

The current priority for "little green bacteria" experiments is a result of the faith-based process described above. I like science at its most empirical.

Mod parent up (1)

megrims (839585) | more than 4 years ago | (#29957274)

+1 Hypocritical "science"

Re:Anti-anthropo-centric thinking (2, Insightful)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 4 years ago | (#29958180)

"If we just look at empirical facts, the probability of finding life twice in the same solar system is not huge."

Hey Eienstien, that's not an emprical fact. It's not even a statistic, it's an anecdote, a single data point from a virtually infinite population of solar systems.

What are the chances ... (1)

cadeon (977561) | more than 4 years ago | (#29951846)

... that we've already transferred terrestrial bacteria via the robots that we've sent there?

I think, if it's possible (may not be, because of the trip), it puts science and Mars in general in an interesting situation.

Re:What are the chances ... (1)

reverseengineer (580922) | more than 4 years ago | (#29952488)

I would put the chances that probes have already sent some microscopic earthlings to Mars as highly unlikely, but not impossible. The strains of bacteria used in this experiment are able to survive many conventional sterilization procedures. The Bacillus pumilus strain used in this particular experiment was in fact Bacillus pumilus-SAFR032. That's Spacecraft Assembly Facility Resistant Isolate 32, endospores of which were originally discovered in the JPL Spacecraft Assembly Facility, after the room had been otherwise rendered sterile with UV radiation and vaporous hydrogen peroxide.

The challenge for any microbe that would want to colonize Mars is to stay at least minimally shielded from ionizing radiation. Bacterial spores can be hardy enough to tolerate days of hard radiation, but usually not months. And at some point, the bacterium will have to have to find conditions suitable for normal stage (non-spore) survival. It would of course be disconcerting to find viable bacterial spores on the long-quiet probes we sent there decades ago (and if we happen to be on Mars in person, then we have brought lots of microbes with us, no way around that), but a few freeze-dried spores is hardly an alien invasion. For bacteria to truly colonize Mars, they would eventually have to get warm, wet, and covered. That makes the end-of-life of the Mars Phoenix mission interesting: crushed by an advancing ice cap. That seems like a process that could plow little bits of probe into the Martian soil....

Survive or be active? (1)

mhollis (727905) | more than 4 years ago | (#29952188)

OK, TFA suggests that Martian soil could harbor dessicated bacterial spores that don't do anything. They don't reproduce, they aren't active, they're just sitting there inert. And that's pretty cool from the standpoint that we can dig up the remains of a former Martian ecosystem that existed long ago and far away.

But, for the average taxpayer interested in funding missions, NASA, rocketry, exploration and grand scale achievements, that is pretty much a yawner.

There is no way at all that anyone representing the USA, NASA, the Russian Federation and China would be willing to take back any microbes to Earth for further study unless those microbes were in a sealed environment and definitely rendered incapable of infecting anyone and anything on Earth.

(For you young whippersnappers out there, I watched all of the Moon landings and I recall the disappointment of having to wait until the World Famous Astronauts emerged from their custom-made Windstream Mobile Home to actually see them in person and live and doing well after their trip to the sterile Moon.)

And, while I appreciate the wonderous MSL "Action Hero" robot (Transformer?!) we're about to send up there, there is nothing aboard that gizmo that will actually prove the existence of a microbe on Mars. Because if said microbes are dormant, they're not going to be emitting methane or any other byproduct of active organisms. And any results of the testing will be circumstantial and easily explained away as "possibly life or possibly something else we don't yet understand about the Martian environment."

We won't settle this issue until a human being with a microscope, or an electron microscope actually goes there and sees those little dormant Martian neighbors with human eyes and some other human reproduces that experience. And that is not going to happen under current NASA funding. Ever.

While I'm not in the camp saying "all these Martian rovers are misspent money," I don't agree that anything they find out will be conclusive, where life is concerned. Unless, of course, some Martian happens to stroll by one of our cameras on his or her way to work.

What are we waiting..? (3, Interesting)

cpscotti (1032676) | more than 4 years ago | (#29952546)

We should just send containers full of bacterias and wild things there... and see what grows.. In fact I think we should send bacteria-filled pods to as many planets/asteroids we can afford to.. this should be cheap.. Populate the whole thing..
Rather than maintaining the question "is there life out there?" we should just force the most pleasant answer:
"Yes.. and we did it!"

Re:What are we waiting..? (1)

cfa22 (1594513) | more than 4 years ago | (#29959040)

To boldly go poop where no man has gone before...

methane on mars (2, Interesting)

Gearoid_Murphy (976819) | more than 4 years ago | (#29953744)

The levels of Methane on Mars are much higher than expected http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars#Methane [wikipedia.org] . If bacertia could easily survive under the soil in the red planet, than that could explain the source of methane.

Evolution (1)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 4 years ago | (#29954160)

It seems that if the conditions permit certain strains of bacteria to live for a while, that almost guarantees that a million years later the planet would be covered with bacteria perfectly adapted for the environment. The harsher conditions and greater difficulty pulling energy out of the environment might result in equilibrium being reached at a much less active biosphere than on Earth, but it seems almost inevitable. I guess the critical question is how realistic is it that bacteria have survived the trip from Earth to Mars on the backs of meteorites?

Re:Evolution (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 4 years ago | (#29958316)

"I guess the critical question is how realistic is it that bacteria have survived the trip from Earth to Mars on the backs of meteorites?"

The solar wind offers another transport mechanisim that doesn't need metorites. It could simply blow spores off the top of Earth's atmosphere in the direction of Mars, like a giant dandylion[sic] without the stalk.

Same experiment done in 2005 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29955060)

They're a bit late to the party...

http://www.shot.com/docs/Newsdesk/Press%20Release%20Library/MarsSHOT.pdf

Magnetic Field (1)

Haxx (314221) | more than 4 years ago | (#29958074)

    Mars is dead because it's magnetic field stopped after it's cores cooled. When a planet has no magnetic field, charged particles from the sun bombard the planet stripping the atmosphere. Mars' surface gets nasty amounts of radiation from the sun. If we could find a way to heat the cores again we could grow anything we wanted on the surface in 20 million years or so.

Re:Magnetic Field (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29961116)

...It's not dead until Netcraft confirms it!

After reading some comments... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29958402)

...it's "bacteria" dammit, "bacteria"! "Bacteria" is already plural to begin with!!1!

Dang...

What about bacteria that we have brought there? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29961758)

What about bacteria that we have eventually brought there on Mars' surface, also against all possible care to avoid that?
Maybe bacteria or other forms of life 'catched' during the trip and then landed in one of the relatively many exploration missions?

For what we know, we might have unwillingly brought life on Mars. There is no water? Who says there must be for a different sort of life?
For what we know that's how maybe life was brought on earth ever, maybe by Martian exploration missions billions of years ago..........

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