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New Evidence Presented For Ancient Fossils In Mars Rocks

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the hope-the-protectors-leave-them-alone dept.

Mars 91

azoblue passes along a story in the Washington Post, which begins: "NASA's Mars Meteorite Research Team reopened a 14-year-old controversy on extraterrestrial life last week, reaffirming and offering support for its widely challenged assertion that a 4-billion-year-old meteorite that landed thousands of years ago on Antarctica shows evidence of microscopic life on Mars. In addition to presenting research that they said disproved some of their critics, the scientists reported that additional Martian meteorites appear to house distinct and identifiable microbial fossils that point even more strongly to the existence of life. 'We feel more confident than ever that Mars probably once was, and maybe still is, home to life,' team leader David McKay said at a NASA-sponsored conference on astrobiology."

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91 comments

Skeptical (2, Interesting)

Foobar of Borg (690622) | more than 3 years ago | (#32133414)

If any fossilized life they find their has the same four nucleotides in its dna sequence (assuming anything like DNA can be recovered), then it is far more likely that the fossils are from Earth and have contaminated the sample. If, however, some sort of dna material can be obtained and there are different base nucleotides, then we have a winner.

Re:Skeptical (3, Interesting)

Misanthrope (49269) | more than 3 years ago | (#32133428)

Actually I'd be a little surprised if the nucleotides were different, current studies seem to suggest that the nucleotides had selective pressure. Here's a video that summarizes some current work on abiogenesis by Dr. Jack Szostak. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6QYDdgP9eg [youtube.com]

Re:Skeptical (2, Interesting)

Cyberax (705495) | more than 3 years ago | (#32135072)

It's quite possible that the Martian life used different nucleotids. For example, even on Earth uracil is used instead of thymine in RNA. Also, parts of DNA can be methylated.

And it's certainly conceivable that some other substances can be used for genetic information. Maybe even from non-organic elements (metals, for example).

Re:Skeptical (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32137222)

Hard to believe there's not someplace on Earth where the same nucleotide variations would have been advantageous.

When we find life on Mars, it's not going to look anywhere near as weird as most people think. Every form of life on Earth has a lot in common at the molecular level, regardless of the ridiculous amount of variation in their respective environments. That suggests that conventional nucleotides found everywhere on Earth are going to be the ultimate winners in any contest held where life can form at all.

Re:Skeptical (1)

Urkki (668283) | more than 3 years ago | (#32138360)

Hard to believe there's not someplace on Earth where the same nucleotide variations would have been advantageous.

Yeah, and it's quite plausible that at the dawn of primitive life, there were several variations, but only this one survived. Life probably got nearly wiped out many times back then, considering all the meteorities, volcanic activity, probably not-yet-quite-stable sun... So our current encoding is probably the one that was best in an environment that didn't get sterilized when everything else got sterilized at some point.

But once the encoding sets in, once there's actual xNA with information, changing encoding is apparently very hard. Any mutation in the basic encoding mechanism would cause every protein to be encoded differently, effectively breaking almost all of them. Now I'm sure there are paths allowing changes (something like first add "support" for new encoding without creating any disadvantage with old encoding still being used for everything, then have it replace old version when environment changes to favor it, then break "support" for old version when it's no longer used). Looking at the evidence (eg. urasil, and whatever we might not have found yet), it seems to be possible but very rare.

Re:Skeptical (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32145154)

Here's a video that summarizes some current work on abiogenesis by Dr. Jack Szostak.

I find it humorous that people insist abiogenesis is not evolution; are the first complex molecules that lead to life not formed by what could be considered selection by evolutionary pressures?

Re:Skeptical (2, Insightful)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#32133486)

How could a fossil that is few billion years old be of Earth origin, if the meteorite is here for only a very short time?

Anyway, if we would rely mostly on comparing things like nucleotides (not that they actually can)...well, that bit of information doesn't have to provide us with definite answer at all. With life that is so old, we aren't certain at all that Earth life relied on "the same four nucleotides" back then. Heck, it might have been that, while Earth life was different, the one on Mars was by a random chance similar to our current "model"...

Re:Skeptical (2, Insightful)

VanGarrett (1269030) | more than 3 years ago | (#32133798)

Beyond that, if they are the same, then it may not be coincidence at all. One planet's life may have been seeded by the other, or both come from another common origin, whether deliberately by intelligent beings, or indeliberately by chance.

Re:Skeptical (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#32137410)

How could a fossil that is few billion years old be of Earth origin

Picture a cartoon coyote, opening a box labeled "ACME". He takes out a large firework with "6,000 years" written on the side. He then proceeds to light the fuse and retires to a safe distance...

Re:Skeptical (1)

Paltin (983254) | more than 3 years ago | (#32139046)

The problem is that there are all kinds of inorganic deposits that look a lot like fossil bacteria. Differentiating between them is very, very difficult. The standards are pretty high for declaring things to be ancient microbial fossils from Earth, and even then there are mistakes and debates. The standard for something from Mars has got to be even higher, and when all you have is an oblong shape that is very, very small, well, it's not very strong evidence.

Re:Skeptical (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#32139098)

I wasn't even touching on this subject. Sure, there is a considerable debate if those are really fossil bacteria.

But determining how old those structures are is considerably easier. Likewise - determining from where the meteorite, in which they are embedded, came from and how long it has been on Earth.
There is very little uncertainty that those structures are Martian, which was what GP poster doubts.

Re:Skeptical (2, Insightful)

lena_10326 (1100441) | more than 3 years ago | (#32136624)

then it is far more likely that the fossils are from Earth and have contaminated the sample

First, meteors are easily identifiable as coming from outer space due to the structure of the rock i.e. melted exterior but not interior, material composition matching Mars, and carbon dating. Second, this particular meteor [wikipedia.org] was found embedded in ice in Antarctica as many meteors are found. How did it get there? (Antarctica is a great place find intact meteors because the ice buffers the landing and then protects the meteor from erosion.) Third, the structure and size of the possible organisms do not match known Earth organisms. How do you explain that?

I invoke Occam's Razor [wikipedia.org]. The simplest explanation is these meteors landed on Earth after travelling from Mars through space. The determination that these contain samples of fossilized life is a separate matter.

Re:Skeptical (1)

Clueless Nick (883532) | more than 3 years ago | (#32137244)

I almost posted a critical comment as I had misread your statements, especially about Occam's Razor.

Luckily, I read your post again. You are very correct!

Where did that bit about the structure and size of the possible organisms come from? I could not find it when I did RTFA. It talks about magnetites.

Re:Skeptical (1)

tibit (1762298) | more than 3 years ago | (#32138138)

They can't carbon date stuff from Mars, because carbon dating has to be done on things that formerly were alive. Heck, it depends on the properties of our atmosphere -- the fact that the carbon there has a certain isotope makeup, and that we know how this makeup has been changing over history. The carbon dating calibration curves describe history of Earth's atmosphere, not some other random atmosphere.

They can date stuff from Mars using other isotopes that have longer half-lives, and are somehow related to the common history of the our solar system. That's the only way things from different planets can be depended upon to have certain isotopic makeups.

Re:Skeptical (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | more than 3 years ago | (#32150494)

They can't carbon date stuff from Mars, because carbon dating has to be done on things that formerly were alive.

That's not incorrect, but not because things the you are going to date with carbon dating need to have been alive. They need to have been in equilibrium with the atmospheric carbon pool before they went out of equilibrium - which a living thing does by dieing, but a non-living thing could do, for example, by being buried in sediment.
The ultimate constraint on carbon dating (and any dating system) is half-life : if you're trying to date an event that occurred ten half lives ago, you're going to be pushing the limit of your techniques and you may need to go to a technique that has a longer half-life.

Re:Skeptical (2, Insightful)

Clueless Nick (883532) | more than 3 years ago | (#32137216)

The featured article talks about magnetite possibly formed by microbes. There is no mention of nucleotides. How can organic molecules from microbes survive fossilization for billions of years, form part of a meteorite, survive its journey through our atmosphere and yet be analyzed?

After all, it would be an extremely rare chance to find surviving DNA from even dinosaur fossils here on earth. The scientific method followed for studying genetic evolution happens mostly by triangulation of molecular information in present-day genes of surviving species, to form a bit of a speculative idea about the genetic makeup of its ancestor of millions of years ago.

If probably you mean that one day, we may find active microbial life on Mars, that indeed would be a great breakthrough, as it will allow us to compare its origin and evolution with ours, and thereby provide us better tools to understand how it arises in the first place. You know, the spark that ignited it all.

Re:Skeptical (1)

nospam007 (722110) | more than 3 years ago | (#32137480)

"...then it is far more likely that the fossils are from Earth and have contaminated the sample."

Or that they maybe are the original seed of earth life.

Re:Skeptical (1)

JamesP (688957) | more than 3 years ago | (#32138072)

Well, again, no

Contamination (at least some of it) has been ruled out when the fossils were found 'inside' (pockets in) the rock

And I guess there's no recoverable DNA there.

Re:Skeptical (1)

w0mprat (1317953) | more than 3 years ago | (#32138166)

We cannot discount that this is the only feasible working chemistry for life, therefore possible life from mars could only have this configuration. Has anyone shown there are possible different base nucleotides for example? Are there are organisms on earth with any differences at such fundamental levels? I haven't heard of any.

Re:Skeptical (1)

Paltin (983254) | more than 3 years ago | (#32139026)

DNA breaks down pretty quickly, in geologic time. The will not find intact strings of DNA in ALH84001, period, and actually looking for living organisms on Mars is going to be very difficult.

Also, if we some day find microorganisms on Mars that share the genetic code of Earth's life, that doesn't prove it's not native Mars live; panspermia and selection both could reasonably explain it. Finding a different code, however, would be excellent evidence for unique origin or long, indpendent evolutionary history.

Re:Skeptical (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32139326)

Skeptical? You denialist! How DARE you oppose this obvious scientific consensus with your armchair viewpoints!

still has the same problems (2, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#32133468)

There's no smoking gun, that is, some direct evidence of these organisms. And frankly, I don't find the current claim of relatively pure magnetite to be compelling. This is part of why I've bet against the discovery of alien life by 2050 [ideosphere.com] since 1996.

Re:still has the same problems (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#32133488)

What happens in 2051?

Re:still has the same problems (4, Funny)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#32133548)

Earth gets disintegrated to make way for a galactic hyperbypass.

Re:still has the same problems (1)

w0mprat (1317953) | more than 3 years ago | (#32138178)

Not if we make it to the planning bureau in Alpha Centauri in time to lodge and objection.

Otherwise we might have to lie infront of bulldozers or something.

Consequences of discovery (5, Interesting)

Larson2042 (1640785) | more than 3 years ago | (#32133522)

While it may be cool to find life on Mars, it would present some additional problems for future colonization (or even just future missions, robotic or otherwise). If we do find life, do we quarantine Mars so that we don't contaminate the native life there? Do we bar ourselves from any terraforming efforts whatsoever so that we don't disrupt possible existing life? You all must realize that that would be the position of at least some people; what percentage of the public that might be, and the influence they would have is another question.

Generally, I think it would be much simpler if we never found life on Mars, and could in fact say with a fair amount of certainty that it is completely dead. That would remove a (possibly significant) reason to oppose human colonization and terraforming.

Re:Consequences of discovery (1)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 3 years ago | (#32133538)

If we do find life, do we quarantine Mars so that we don't contaminate the native life there? Do we bar ourselves from any terraforming efforts whatsoever so that we don't disrupt possible existing life?

I say "damn those Martians, full speed ahead!"

Re:Consequences of discovery (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32138896)

I say "damn those Martians, full speed ahead!"

The Council of Elders not only rests its case, but slams it shut on your gelsacs!
- K'Breel, Speaker for the Council

Re:Consequences of discovery (2, Interesting)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#32133564)

While it may be cool to find life on Mars, it would present some additional problems for future colonization (or even just future missions, robotic or otherwise). If we do find life, do we quarantine Mars so that we don't contaminate the native life there? Do we bar ourselves from any terraforming efforts whatsoever so that we don't disrupt possible existing life? You all must realize that that would be the position of at least some people; what percentage of the public that might be, and the influence they would have is another question.

I think here that we'll just have to take it as the universe gives it to us. If there is life on Mars, we will probably establish some sort of barrier so that Earth life doesn't necessarily contaminate Mars life and vice versa. Even if Mars colonization turns out to be obstructed by regulation or other means to prevent contamination, the obstacles will be reasonable or someone will find a way to get around the regulations in question (say by totally ignoring them and deliberately contaminating Mars and/or Earth).

Re:Consequences of discovery (1)

shawn443 (882648) | more than 3 years ago | (#32133806)

Besides War of the Worlds scenarios, life is robust enough to beat foreigns. See smallpox and the new world, though it wasn't pretty, life still lived. Its just Darwinian is all. Get used to alien life and death, its a coming, probably jump out of your chest style.

Re:Consequences of discovery (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32134062)

Bullshit!
When we find native inhabitants, we run roughshod right over them!
Send BP to drill for oil! The time is NOW!
While there's nobody's back yard to get polluted!

that we care about.... 8P

Re:Consequences of discovery (1)

toastar (573882) | more than 3 years ago | (#32135718)

it might be cheaper to scoop the gas off titan

Re:Consequences of discovery (1)

stoicio (710327) | more than 3 years ago | (#32148102)

How many trips would that take?
What kind of volume are we talking about here?
What kind of time frame are we looking at?

We need some calculations so that we can make our
Titan gas hauler large enough to get the job done
in a reasonable amount of time. Is there enough
metal in our solar system to make a space craft large enough
to haul that much gas in a reasonable amount of time?

I think human made space stations are probably a better bet.
Terraforming is a fantasy that doesn't add up.

Re:Consequences of discovery (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32134288)

I used to be naive and idealistic like you, then I learned about panspermia. It is fairly certain by now that all planets are being bombarded by asteroids filled with random organisms. Earth and Mars have almost certainly been recipients of foreign material. Any bacteria, etc. that we might transfer to Mars should cause us no worries. Organisms from Earth should be just as valid as random organisms from panspermia. In fact the very organisms that we might take there could have been derived from our own exposure to panspermia.

I would suggest that we should enact our own panspermia missions. We can drop our own organisms on planets and moons. Imagine in only a few hundred years that Mars could have large areas covered with many varieties of lichens, including those nifty ones that blow around in the wind. We could start with extremophiles, and work our way up from there. I would guess that the lunar missions left human biological material on the moon as they would want to reduce weight as much as possible before returning to Earth. What is NASA's answer to this? And now ice has been found on the surface of the moon. My high school science teacher lied to me, I was told it was impossible due to sublimation.

Re:Consequences of discovery (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#32134516)

I used to be naive and idealistic like you, then I learned about panspermia. It is fairly certain by now that all planets are being bombarded by asteroids filled with random organisms. Earth and Mars have almost certainly been recipients of foreign material. Any bacteria, etc. that we might transfer to Mars should cause us no worries. Organisms from Earth should be just as valid as random organisms from panspermia. In fact the very organisms that we might take there could have been derived from our own exposure to panspermia.

Speaking of smoking guns, where's the asteroid or comet with life on it? For panspermia to be valid, there need to be evidence of life in space. We haven't observed that yet (aside from some bacteria spores in the upper atmosphere, which might become cast off from Earth). Further, just because Mars and Earth might have organisms from the same common source, doesn't mean that they'll live peacefully together. On Earth, we have plenty of examples of invader species that upend an ecosystem in which they have no natural controls (like predators and parasites). My understanding is that organisms from bigger, more competitive ecologies tend to win. I would put book on Earth organisms trouncing their Martian counterparts, at least in the more habitable Martian environments.

Re:Consequences of discovery (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32136508)

My high school science teacher lied to me, I was told it was impossible due to sublimation.

You're weren't lied to. You were given the best information available at the time. If your high school science teacher had told you that the moon was made of green cheese and riddled with mines dug by moon men then you'd have been lied to*.

*Unless you were in high school during the century before last, in which case, once again, you were given the best information available at the time.

Re:Consequences of discovery (1)

bhartman34 (886109) | more than 3 years ago | (#32136578)

Panspermia doesn't really answer where life comes from. It just sort of shifts the question off of Earth. When someone asks, "How did life come about?", the least informative answer you can give them is that it was seeded here by an asteroid or meteor. The real question is how did it arise on the object that the seeding object came from. Panspermia's just a cop-out.

Re:Consequences of discovery (2, Interesting)

ChatHuant (801522) | more than 3 years ago | (#32137300)

Panspermia doesn't really answer where life comes from. It just sort of shifts the question off of Earth.

It's true, it doesn't answer where life comes from, but it's more than turtles all the way down. Shifting the question off Earth changes the question, because off Earth the conditions are different! Panspermia removes all objections related to the specific conditions of primeval Earth. If you postulate that life has appeared on Earth, your theory has to explain it given a lot of constraints: a certain chemical composition, a certain gravity, certain temperature ranges and so on. With panspermia that's not the case any more - it vastly expands the range of environments, processes, time frames and resources available for life to arise.

Re:Consequences of discovery (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 3 years ago | (#32140856)

Any bacteria, etc. that we might transfer to Mars should cause us no worries.

Oh yeah. Because these organisms might have the same origins, we shouldn't concern ourselves with the consequences of introducing earth bacteria.

Just like introducing species into new ecosystems on earth, because hey all the life came from earth, is something you can do willy-nilly with no care since it never has negative consequences.

So okay, what happens when we figure out that life on Mars and earth did have a common ancestor, but the Martian life was different enough that it was worth preserving and studying? Only now it's gone because nobody cared to preserve it?

I'm not saying anything is or isn't going to happen, but acting like the issue of damaging an extra-terrestrial environment is irrelevant because of panspermia isn't sophisticated, it's retarded.

Let's at least get to the point where we know if there is life on Mars, and then what it looks like, how robust the ecosystem is, before we just abandon all consideration of contaminating Mars, okay?

Re:Consequences of discovery (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32141820)

My point was that random stuff is falling from the sky already, so whatever we might bring along is just as random. The point is RANDOM, uncontrolled, bio-organisms or pre-cursors have been landing on the planets for millennia anyway. In reality, we will be cautious, because we don't want to get exposed to some Andromeda Strain virus. If we are worried about contaminating other planets, then we must stop all exploration other than observations from orbit. Any landing has the potential to take bio material with it. I think it is worth the risk to land on and explore every celestial body that we can.

Re:Consequences of discovery (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32134356)

Why would we treat Mars any differently than Earth? If we have economic or political interests in terraforming Mars, we may try to incorporate Martian microbes if they are useful, but ultimately, we'll just do it and the 'natives' be damned.

Re:Consequences of discovery (1)

gig (78408) | more than 3 years ago | (#32134394)

We kill them all and take what's theirs and hear the lamentations of the women, etc. That is clear.

Truly, if there is life on Mars I think that will cause us to go there and rape it even sooner than otherwise.

Re:Consequences of discovery (1)

newcastlejon (1483695) | more than 3 years ago | (#32135986)

Truly, if there is life on Mars I think that will cause us to go there and rape it even sooner than otherwise.

Please, tell me you meant raze.

Re:Consequences of discovery (1)

u17 (1730558) | more than 3 years ago | (#32137196)

Truly, if there is life on Mars I think that will cause us to go there and rape it even sooner than otherwise.

Please, tell me you meant raze.

Please, tell me you meant raise.

Re:Consequences of discovery (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32138054)

Truly, if there is life on Mars I think that will cause us to go there and rape it even sooner than otherwise.

Please, tell me you meant raze.

Please, tell me you meant raise.

Please, tell me you know what raze means and did not think he misspelled raise.

Re:Consequences of discovery (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 3 years ago | (#32136706)

If we do find life, do we quarantine Mars so that we don't contaminate the native life there?

Well... that depends on if we've invented the Prime Directive by then.

Re:Consequences of discovery (1)

gnalle (125916) | more than 3 years ago | (#32136836)

Most microorganisms from earth cannot survive outdoors on Mars, so hopefully the (hypothetical) Martian native life will not be contaminated. But frankly I don't think that any country on earth will delay colonization of Mars to save its native life.

Re:Consequences of discovery (2, Informative)

kurt555gs (309278) | more than 3 years ago | (#32136924)

Thoats, callots' mad zitidars, what do you mean there is no life on Mars?

Re:Consequences of discovery (1)

bazorg (911295) | more than 3 years ago | (#32136944)

[...] If we do find life, do we quarantine Mars so that we don't contaminate the native life there?[...]

Depends on the means used to find that life form and the motivation to go to Mars. If (say) China decides to colonise Mars as a means to ensure that human life goes on even if the Earth becomes uninhabitable, I do not think that other countries would shoot down their colony ships on the basis of preserving a pristine state of the Martian nature. I'm sure there are international treaties about space exploration and ethics in space, but if there's an emergency or a huge amount of money waiting for a very limited subset of countries able to to reap the benefits of colonising before all others, those treaties IMHO will be ignored very quickly.

Re:Consequences of discovery (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 3 years ago | (#32138522)

"do we quarantine Mars so that we don't contaminate the native life there?"

Of course not. Are you nucking PHUTTS? If there's life on Mars, or anywhere else, we'll CULTIVATE it and EAT IT!! Do you know what nutrients those Martian slugs need? Mine aren't doing so well, right now. Maybe a little acetic acid?

The universe has lots of microbes.... (1)

stoicio (710327) | more than 3 years ago | (#32142166)

...and will get along just fine even if we move into the neighborhood.

People really need to *Get Over* the whole Star Trek thing and worrying about every
bacillus/eucaryot and rock as if it were some precious message from an all knowing spaghetti-monster.
"Oh my god, I moved a rock!!!!!"

Mars is the house next door. If it's on Mars, it's probably here already too, and vice versa.

The main proponents of staying in Earth are those who would lose a great deal of social
control over the masses. Protecting microbes or Mars as park land is a thin excuse.

It doesn't matter if some people want to resist moving to Mars or anywhere else in the universe;
Why?, Because I am actively teaching my children and grandchildren that the universe is our
future. I am teaching them to ignore people who say we should stay here and do and be nothing
and never exceed ourselves. I'm teaching them to ignore those who preach to deprecation,
vacillation, and flagellation; in favor of curiosity and exploration.

With all my being and the resources of the immortality provided my children and their children
into the eons we will be forcing the expansion of humanity into the greater universe.
Make a law if you like, but if there's a bus off of this speck of dust, or a way to build one
we're going to be on it and you will need to stop us by force.

You will have to catch us first. So I hope your propulsion system is as good as ours.

As for terraforming Mars, Venus is a better bet. Gravity is similar, it's inside the
temperate zone and it's atmosphere has the makings of water.

Mars has a CO2 atmosphere for a reason. It's gravity is too low to keep oxygen
from blowing away in the solar wind.

Private space programs are already here. Those who say we should just stay put
because *the Earth is flat and we'll just fall off the edge* will be hard pressed to
put the genie back in the bottle. They can't shoot all of our rockets down.

Re:The universe has lots of microbes.... (1)

dryeo (100693) | more than 3 years ago | (#32147468)

As for terraforming Mars, Venus is a better bet. Gravity is similar, it's inside the
temperate zone and it's atmosphere has the makings of water.

Mars has a CO2 atmosphere for a reason. It's gravity is too low to keep oxygen
from blowing away in the solar wind.

Actually Venus has lost most of its hydrogen so doesn't have much in the way of water makings.
And Mars has a CO2 atmosphere for the same reason as Venus. Oxygen is reactive and combines with hydrogen or carbon (usually) rather then existing as an elementary element.
The only reason that the Earth has free oxygen is due to life.

Re:The universe has lots of microbes.... (1)

stoicio (710327) | more than 3 years ago | (#32148018)

Yes, but I think you're disregarding the points about terraforming.

!Just add water!

Terraforming could rectify the missing hydrogen (water).
There are a few icy comets that we could re-orbit around Venus.

Heck, we only need 1.1475x10^18 metric tonnes of water to get the job done. :)
(And some sulfur-loving algae)

Total mass of comets represent 2% of solar (3.9782x10^25)
The number of comets required to do this would be a rather daunting though
since the average comet is only 1 km or less. We would require 1.36x10^9
average sized comets to accomplish the task.

Assuming we were very good and able to collect 1000 comets per year
it would take only 1.36 million years to make it all come together.

Holy cow! Terraforming is a pile of crap! WHO KNEW!!!

Best Regards.

Wash Post Flame Wars (3, Insightful)

poena.dare (306891) | more than 3 years ago | (#32133802)

Y'know /. is pretty damn cool. Our flame wars are a joy to behold compared to the Wash Post flaming attached to the article.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/30/AR2010043002000_Comments.html [washingtonpost.com]

Re:Wash Post Flame Wars (1)

jcupitt65 (68879) | more than 3 years ago | (#32138552)

Haha, that's amazing, there are actually people there claiming that the scientists have invented the whole thing to get more research funding. It's worse than youtube comments.

That kind of thing could never happen on slashdot! [slashdot.org]

Life from Earth (2, Interesting)

PineHall (206441) | more than 3 years ago | (#32133842)

It is my understanding that bacteria could survive a trip through space from Earth to Mars (or vice versa). I wonder if a chunk of earth made it to Mars and seeded Mars with bacterial life. That could mean that the bacterial life on Mars could have the same characteristics as bacterial life on Earth because they originated from Earth. It makes the contamination issue a little more complex.

I'd rather life here, didn't start on Mars... (1)

TiberiusMonkey (1603977) | more than 3 years ago | (#32134036)

...and we still find life on Mars. It would be pretty exciting to find out that life started on Mars and came here, but how much more exciting would it be to find out that two different forms of life started on two different planets in one solar system? With odds like that, I'd be willing to bet that the universe is just crawling with life.

Panspermia (4, Interesting)

sdo1 (213835) | more than 3 years ago | (#32134074)

If it's true, it's actually not a huge deal. I could mean that life spontaneously started on both Earth and Mars (Panspermia). But it's probably more likely (Occam's razor and such) that life started on either Earth or Mars and was transported via meteor to the other planet. I would be very cool if life on Earth actually started on Mars, but it's not clear to me how we could prove which came first. -S

Re:Panspermia (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32134198)

Idiot you are a dumbshit.

Re:Panspermia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32137020)

I would be very cool if life on Earth actually started on Mars, but it's not clear to me how we could prove which came first.

God created life on Earth. There's really nothing to debate here. He took some tiny bugs and planted them on Mars to test our faith.

Re:Panspermia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32139438)

One has to consider the likelyhood of two low-probability events --- that life would have appeared twice or that it was carried over by a meteorite. I don't see why the second is so much more likely than the first.

Re:Panspermia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32139788)

Doesn't panspermia actually refer to a scenario where all life (or all life in a particular neighborhood) shares a common origin, the opposite of what you describe? The usual example given is comet-borne extraterrestrial microbes taking root on several planets concurrently and diversifying, creating distantly related but locally adapted planetary ecologies.

Re:Panspermia (1)

deblau (68023) | more than 3 years ago | (#32140230)

With what evidence do you support your "probably more likely" argument? As far as I know, we're on the only inhabited rock in the universe -- I fail to see the source of your probability estimate.

Damn them scientist... (2, Funny)

3seas (184403) | more than 3 years ago | (#32134158)

... sic them politicians on them scientist... that'll prove they (the scientist) are wrong.

Get Your Ass To Mars! (1)

No-Cool-Nickname (1287972) | more than 3 years ago | (#32134442)

You'll even have fantasies about alien civilizations as you requested; but in the end, back on Earth, you'll be lobotomized!

I reject the notion that man isn't a cosmic entity (3, Insightful)

mykos (1627575) | more than 3 years ago | (#32135520)

I feel that this notion ingrained in to our environmental education that anything and everything human beings do is bad and/or unnatural is just wrong.
The universe is a vast place. And in the big picture, we are all part of it. Nothing we could possibly do is out of the bounds of nature on a universal scale. We have as much right to explore, seed, and shape the cosmos as any other creature in the universe. If we disturb the habitat of any other planet, so be it. It's the laws of the universe at work.

To paraphrase Carl Sagan... The cosmos is within all of us. We are made of star stuff.

Re:I reject the notion that man isn't a cosmic ent (1)

shawnap (959909) | more than 3 years ago | (#32136428)

I feel that this notion ingrained in our environmental education that anything and everything human beings do is bad and/or unnatural is just wrong. The universe is a vast place. And in the big picture, we are all part of it. Nothing we could possibly do is out of the bounds of nature on a universal scale. We have as much right to explore, seed, and shape the cosmos as any other creature in the universe. If we disturb the habitat of any other planet, so be it. It's the laws of the universe at work.

Seldom have I seen this sentiment put so well.
I hesitate though, to single out environmental education for an idea that pervades our culture so thoroughly. Whether it's the remnants of a self flagellating religion, the relentless search for authenticity that is the reverse side of our popular culture, baked into the human mind, or a mixture of these and more, teaching kids about pollution is only this strand's most obvious outlet.
There is however, a legitimate question beneath surface: To what degree, if any, should we maintain areas of the universe as 'wild'? Is there an intrinsic value to an area from which we are absent, or does this value, if it exists, come from rarity?

Re:I reject the notion that man isn't a cosmic ent (1)

Clueless Nick (883532) | more than 3 years ago | (#32137232)

How would we feel about extra-terrestrial creatures coming to Earth and seeding it with THEIR kind of life, which might be actually harmful to us?

If there is life on extra-solar planets, or even other planets in our solar system, it may have arisen uniquely, taken different biochemical routes, evolved differently.

Considering the question from the viewpoint of the golden rule, should we be really polluting other systems just to push our own biological agenda?

Other extraterrestrial civilizations may also evolve their own Stephen Hawking one day!

Re:I reject the notion that man isn't a cosmic ent (1)

Darkman, Walkin Dude (707389) | more than 3 years ago | (#32139412)

How would we feel about extra-terrestrial creatures coming to Earth and seeding it with THEIR kind of life, which might be actually harmful to us?

That would still be entirely natural.

Re:I reject the notion that man isn't a cosmic ent (1)

dominious (1077089) | more than 3 years ago | (#32137366)

Yes, but feeling bad and unnatural so we are not supposed to do some things, is also part of the laws of the universe at work...

Re:I reject the notion that man isn't a cosmic ent (1)

aukset (889860) | more than 3 years ago | (#32140178)

..and I reject the notion that my urinating on your doorstep is in any way unnatural.

Its called having respect for something that isn't yours. Get some, and stop whining that other people might actually hold you accountable for the consequences of your actions, since you are apparently too selfish or short-sighted to consider them on your own.

Re:I reject the notion that man isn't a cosmic ent (1)

asukasoryu (1804858) | more than 3 years ago | (#32158722)

Easy to say when you're not on the receiving end. What if some alien civilization decided Earth looked like a good place to hang out when we were still crawling out of the ocean?

Sounds like you're saying it's alright to take what you want if you have the power and no one can stop you. Nazis and Poland, Europeans and the New World, Sky People and Pandora... just take what you want. I think we should tread carefully. We may destroy something irreplaceable before we recognize its value.

Life is at the poles. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32135700)

But we are too stupid to send crafts there so it will be a while before it can be proved.

This should be NASA's primary current goal. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32135790)

NASA does science. It's the one thing they're really good at. The more we learn about our solar system, the more possibilities we're finding that other life, simple as it may be, could exist within it. Mar's now, possible underwater oceans on Europa and the other icy moons (Callisto, Ganymede, Triton) as well as many unanswered questions on Titan as well. Life outside earth is something so important that a price cant be put on the effort to know, even in the more then likely scenario that it isn't there. . If it isn't in the solar system, nobody here will be alive to see when it does happen. Not unless it finds us.

The next space mission I am most anticipating. [nasa.gov]

Back on the envelope computation: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32137008)

(probability that life exists on Mars) x (probability a comet hits Mars and expels some rocks with bacteria inside) x (probability that the rocks reach the Earth [bigpicturesmallworld.com]) x (probability that the rock survives without burning through the atmosphere) x (probability that the rock is not eroded by wind and water before being collected) x (probability that the rock is found by a NASA scientist) = ?!?

Next story, please...

Re:Back on the envelope computation: (1)

julesh (229690) | more than 3 years ago | (#32137110)

(probability that life exists on Mars)

s/exists/ever existed/.
Unknowable given our current state of science, but some theories would place it quite high.

x (probability a comet hits Mars and expels some rocks with bacteria inside)

Given that life existed, this is almost certain to have happened, probably many times. We know that rocks have been expelled via such a mechanism. We know that in a biosphere like Earth's, it is almost impossible to find surface-level rocks that don't have any signs of life. We would assume that a Martian biosphere, if it existed, would most likely be similar to our own in most ways.

x (probability that the rocks reach the Earth)

We know that this happens.

x (probability that the rock survives without burning through the atmosphere)

We know that this happens, too.

x (probability that the rock is not eroded by wind and water before being collected)

Very high. It takes a *long* time for this to happen.

x (probability that the rock is found by a NASA scientist)

Fairly low. But we do know that it happens.

= ?!?

Answer depends on an unknown variable, but some estimates would place it reasonably high. Possible range of answers is almost zero to somewhere above 0.5, depending on what theories you accept about origins of life.

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