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Mars Site May Hold 'Buried Life'

kdawson posted more than 3 years ago | from the is-that-calcium-carbonate-or-are-you-just-glad-to-see-me dept.

Mars 63

sridharo sends in a report from the BBC that researchers have identified ancient rocks from Nili Fossae that could contain fossilized remains of life. These rocks are very similar to Pilbara rocks in northwest Australia. The rocks are estimated to be up to four billion years old, which means they have been around for three-quarters of the history of Mars. "[Many] scientists had hoped that they would soon have the opportunity to get much closer to these rocks. Nili Fossae was put forward as a potential landing site for NASA's ambitious new rover, the Mars Science Laboratory, which will be launched in 2011. ... But Nilae Fossae was eventually deemed too dangerous a landing site and it was finally removed from the list in June of this year." The research, led by a scientist from the SETI Institute, was published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

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63 comments

SETI? (4, Insightful)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 3 years ago | (#33082520)

When did SETI become interested in fossils?

Re:SETI? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33082568)

if it holds PR value SETI will put there name on it. As anyone would if they want to get their message out.

Re:SETI? (3, Insightful)

AndyAndyAndyAndy (967043) | more than 3 years ago | (#33082614)

Perhaps looking at fossilized life (and specifically where it once occured) will help SETI narrow down that huge scope in looking for still-active life.

Let's ask Geraldo (1)

spun (1352) | more than 3 years ago | (#33084624)

Look folks, that's just a cover story. Geraldo Rivera has actually contracted with NASA to search for Jimmy Hoffa's body on Mars.

Re:SETI? (4, Insightful)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 3 years ago | (#33082928)

Just because someone works for SETI doesn't mean they can't do related research about exobiology. This is especially the case because if we discover actual extraterrestrial life, even microbial life, the chance of SETI being successful goes way up. And as we find out more, we get a better idea what sort of star systems to look for for life or intelligent life.

Re:SETI? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33083124)

Just because someone works for SETI doesn't mean they can't do related research about exobiology. This is especially the case because if we discover actual extraterrestrial life, even microbial life, the chance of SETI being successful goes way up. And as we find out more, we get a better idea what sort of star systems to look for for life or intelligent life.

Clearly the government's approach to confirming that there is intelligent extraterrestrial and/or extradimensional alien life with which they have been in contact is to do so in baby steps. First it's maybe extraterrestrial life is possible but it'd be too far away to ever get to us. Then it's maybe Mars once had water. Then it's maybe that rock from Mars that impacted earth had remains of microbes but we can't tell for sure. Now it's a Mars site that may hold buried life. Yeah, they like to do this in baby steps.

Re:SETI? (3, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 3 years ago | (#33083648)

I don't think there's anything covert or nefarious about it. A few decades ago, before we had a good handle on organisms like extremophiles, it was assumed that life had, even on Earth, a tentative grip, that there was only this exceedingly narrow band of conditions that could produce life, and that any world that fell outside that was very likely barren. In the last couple of decades our understanding of organisms that can survive in an incredibly hostile environments, not to mention the discovery of a lot of carbon compounds even in deep space, has opened up the possibility that maybe all you need is water (or maybe even ammonia), carbon and energy. Beyond that, our understanding of Mars has greatly increased, and we've pretty much confirmed in multiple ways that, whatever the state of the planet now, at one time it was volcanically active and had open bodies of water, conditions not so different from Earth.

Re:SETI? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33083732)

I don't think there's anything covert or nefarious about it.

You're so right. Our government always has our best interests at heart and would never do anything that could remotely be described as covert or nefarious. They always tell us the whole truth about everything. How could I have suspected otherwise?

Re:SETI? (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 3 years ago | (#33084392)

Put the tinfoil hat back on.

Re:SETI? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33084556)

Put the tinfoil hat back on.

when they tested the horrible medical effects of ionizing radiation on black people without their informed consent in an outright display of racism i suppose that was just tinfoil hattery too right? when they take away freedoms "for the children" that's another case of excess tinfoil. yeah. how dare i question the nobility of government, there is so much history on the subject that clearly anybody who doesn't trust them is some kind of paranoid nutter right?

Re:SETI? (2, Funny)

Hylandr (813770) | more than 3 years ago | (#33083882)

Convince the American people that Mars has weapons of mass destruction and give the military the funding it asks for. There will be a colony in no time and local Martian girls will be handing out free beer when the sailors get off the ships.

- Dan.

Re:SETI? (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 3 years ago | (#33084320)

Convince the American people that Mars has weapons of mass destruction and give the military the funding it asks for.

Um... 2007 called. They want their joke back. It's 2010. Jokes have to be about bipartisanism.

Re:SETI? (1)

Hylandr (813770) | more than 3 years ago | (#33086432)

Convince the American people that Mars has weapons of mass destruction and give the military the funding it asks for. Um... 2007 called. They want their joke back. It's 2010. Jokes have to be about bipartisanism.

While you may be technically correct, Either way, Here's bipartisan;

A black man in a suit, in front of a lot of cameras with national attention stating to the red and the blue "We can all get along".

- Dan.

Re:SETI? (3, Insightful)

dr.newton (648217) | more than 3 years ago | (#33083012)

I don't find it surprising that the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute would be interested in signs of life on another planet.

That's kind of the point of the organization, isn't it?

Re:SETI? (1)

Jarnin (925269) | more than 3 years ago | (#33092340)

Intelligent life will not be found on Mars. Seems outside the scope of SETI's purpose to me.

Re:SETI? (1)

NotBorg (829820) | more than 3 years ago | (#33083716)

After giving up on intelligence they had to... SETL. Ba da boom.

Why shouldn't they look for life? Discovering significant evidence for the existence of extra-terrestrial life (intelligent or not) strengthens their cause to find intelligent life. We really haven't found much to say that life is not unique to our own planet.

While it may not have been part of their original mission, "The mission of the SETI Institute is to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe." is on their front page. It doesn't seem like their mission is bounded by their acronym name.

Re:SETI? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33084718)

It might have been intelligent, you insensitive clod!

Oh yeah, Slashdot.... sorry.

Re:SETI? (3, Informative)

SETIGuy (33768) | more than 3 years ago | (#33086928)

That's the problem with the SETI Institute calling themselves "the SETI Institute." The SETI institute is a research institute that works on many types of science. Most of the scientists working at the SETI institute are biologists, chemists, geologists, and astronomers that don't do SETI. They work on other aspects of studying the potential for life in the universe. They also have an education group that designs curricula related to the search for life in the universe. It's even worse when they drop the word "Institute" and call themselves "SETI." Most of the people in the world that do SETI don't work at the SETI institute. But the SETI institute is sometimes credited or blamed for work they didn't do because they have allowed the idea that all SETI is done or overseen by the SETI Institute to become pervasive.

Re:SETI? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33088182)

when they concluded that intelligent life must be extinct.

Obligatory quote... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33082530)

I for one welcome our new Fossilized Martian Overlords!

Re:Obligatory quote... (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33083528)

I for one welcome our new Fossilized Martian underlords!

Fixed that for you. They are burried...

I can imagine the scenario very clearly:
"We have been been exploring Mars for life for years; after the whole "water on Mars deal", maybe we should cut funding and apply ourselves to some other space-missiones..."
[pretends to bump] "Whoops... what is this? Could it be? LIFE? ON MARS? It was burried ALL ALONG!
We need to dig further!! The Water was a lie."
"GET ME A SHOVEL AND A GROUP OF FEMALE ARCHEOLOGY STUDENTS!"
"Way ahead of you...."

Let me know (2, Interesting)

Viperpete (1261530) | more than 3 years ago | (#33082580)

May, might, maybe. I am optimistic, but let me know when they actually find life and not every speculation someone has each day.

Re:Let me know (4, Insightful)

IndustrialComplex (975015) | more than 3 years ago | (#33082860)

May, might, maybe. I am optimistic, but let me know when they actually find life and not every speculation someone has each day.

That may be all you are interested in, but if we all ignored everything until it was confirmed then nothing would ever be done. Granted the headline is WILDLY optimistic and on that I agree with you, since what was proposed was merely to investigate a site which is expected to have fossils if there were ever life to make those fossils.

Even still this is a necessary part of what science IS.

Observations were made.
A Hypothesis was formed.
Tests were proposed.

Learning about what was suggested and planned for those steps is something that interests a great number of people here.

Re:Let me know (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33121112)

He wasn't criticising the science, but the newsworthiness. This is just speculation, nothing really worth reporting. At the very least the title of the story should be more accurate e.g "Mars site is a good place to look for fossilised life", but then fewer people would bother reading it, because it just isn't that interesting for most people.

Wild speculation, on the Internet of all places! (3, Insightful)

Palestrina (715471) | more than 3 years ago | (#33082686)

It sounds more like this: If there was life on Mars, then these rocks remind someone of rocks in Australia that preserved evidence of early life on Earth.

This does not imply by any means that the existence of these rocks raises the probability that there was life on Mars.

Compare: We discovered life on Earth in a red rock. We found red rocks on Mars, therefore they might be hiding evidence of life! Or not...

Re:Wild speculation, on the Internet of all places (4, Insightful)

IndustrialComplex (975015) | more than 3 years ago | (#33082912)

Compare: We discovered life on Earth in a red rock. We found red rocks on Mars, therefore they might be hiding evidence of life! Or not...

Isn't it more like saying:

If there were life on Mars, based on our experience on Earth in looking at similar formations, these rock formations seem to be the most likely to have preserved evidence of past life.

Re:Wild speculation, on the Internet of all places (1)

blind biker (1066130) | more than 3 years ago | (#33094738)

If there was life on Mars, based on our experience on Earth in looking at similar formations, these rock formations seem to be the most likely to have preserved evidence of past life.

Sorry for the little correction, but I think the two forms of conditional are too often confused, and it's worth pointing out that "were" is used in the case of unreal conditionals. This is not the case: the possibility of past life on Mars is not known, hence, not impossible.

Re:Wild speculation, on the Internet of all places (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33082966)

Who claimed that these rocks raised the probability that there was life on Mars? You should quote the passage you want to attack because otherwise you're attacking your own speculation.

"too dangerous a landing site" (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33082828)

These mars probes are super cheap in the global scheme of things. You can pay for them with a few hours of the cash outflow we spend on middle east wars or on wasteful entitlement programs - and in fact possibly even less, since producing the 2nd is cheaper than the 1st. Instead of building 1 or 2, we should build 20, and drop them down in interesting places. Some will land on a boulder and never be heard from again, but some will also luck out and we'll have them in more scientifically interesting places.

Re:"too dangerous a landing site" (5, Insightful)

AhabTheArab (798575) | more than 3 years ago | (#33083118)

I'm sure I'd like to see this happen just as much as you, but there's a couple problems. For one, NASA does have a limited budget. It may not be expensive for our country to build twenty of these, but it is expensive for NASA. We (as a nation) just don't value space exploration enough, which is sad.

The other problem is putting your eggs in the same basket. With each new rover we send, we can draw from lessons learned from past rover missions and improve them. What if all twenty had a fatal flaw that we didn't discover until it was too late? What if there was some instruments/capabilities that would be beneficial to have on them, but didn't know they would come in handy until after they landed? I would love to see a more aggressive space program. Although, it seems better for us to launch one rover every year for five years (each of which presumably more capable than the last), than to launch five all at once every five years.

Re:"too dangerous a landing site" (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33083282)

build em out of lego mindstorms and crazyglue them together and use plentu of duct tape. then the only cost is getting 'em there!

Re:"too dangerous a landing site" (1)

JamesP (688957) | more than 3 years ago | (#33085850)

Not to mention managing 20 landers at the same time

Also, yes, the 2nd, 3rd is cheaper, but you still need one rocket per lander (which is an important part of the price tag)

Re:"too dangerous a landing site" (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | more than 3 years ago | (#33086936)

It may not be expensive for our country to build twenty of these, but it is expensive for NASA.

The point, however, is that the cost of building two is nowhere near double the cost of building one. Spirit/Opportunity did not cost double MSL, the Voyagers didn't cost double Galileo. In fact, NASA will always build multiple rovers/probes to have spares on Earth to practice fixing a problem before risking the real rover/probe. Building a single MSL rover is a false economy, in a $-per-discovery sense.

Also, look at the gap between rovers...
Pathfinder: 1997
Spirit/Opportunity: 2004
MSL-Curiosity: 2012 (best case)
MAX-C: 2018 (earliest proposed launch.)

How much more cost effective would the Mars program be if they had launched another half a dozen Pathfinder- then Spirit-class rovers in the interims.

Probes to the outer planets are worse. Look at the gap between the Voyagers and Galileo, Galileo and Cassini. Cassini was apparently fifteen years in the making. How much extra would it have really cost to build two or three? (Oh, plus one to Jupiter, one to Pluto... Heh heh heh...)

The other problem is putting your eggs in the same basket. [...] better for us to launch one rover every year for five years (each of which presumably more capable than the last), than to launch five all at once every five years.

AC didn't say all twenty would be launched at once. That's almost certainly impossible. But sending "five in five years" would require exactly the sort of multi-rover program it was talking about.

What if there was some instruments/capabilities that would be beneficial to have on them, but didn't know they would come in handy until after they landed?

And how is that different to any probe/rover? Given their development cycle, they'll be out of date before they are finished being built.

Re:"too dangerous a landing site" (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33083212)

Hey, those women and children in the middle east aren't going to shoot themselves you know. Somebody has to do it, I say keep funding the military industrial complex, it's a very good bodies to dollars ratio. Silly "scientists" and their love of money for useless things like space probes.

Re:"too dangerous a landing site" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33086572)

Hey, those women and children in the middle east aren't going to shoot themselves you know.

No, but they do have a tendency to blow themselves up.

Question for the Old Timers (2, Interesting)

locallyunscene (1000523) | more than 3 years ago | (#33083762)

I wasn't around when Kennedy made his speech about going to the moon so I was wondering, what was the reception of the speech at the time?

Did half the country cry pork? Did they yell that private enterprise should be the one to take this mantle? Republicans were much more of a financially conservative party then, did they balk at the cost and actually try and cut spending from it rather than reallocating it?

If the answer to these questions is that the response was more positive, was it Kennedy himself who paved the way for this plan to be accepted, or the general fear of the Soviets that got it pushed through?

Re:Question for the Old Timers (5, Interesting)

bwintx (813768) | more than 3 years ago | (#33085076)

I did a paper on this in graduate school, in the late 1970s. After the initial shock of "OMG, he really means it" wore off, and particularly as the 1962 mid-term election season came along, it broke down more along lines of party/ideology than many remember. Fiscal conservatives (true ones, not the so-called conservatives who, say, rubber-stamp anything the Pentagon wants) definitely never liked the huge cost, even though the deficit wasn't that big a problem at the time. (It was the guns-and-butter approach during the height of the VIetnam War that went wacko in the red-ink department; NASA's costs were a drop in the bucket, even then.) And, yeah, it generally was the "we've-gotta-beat-the-Russians" feeling that carried it to fruition despite the criticisms that did arise, particularly after the Apollo I fire in 1967 made it clear that a lot of corners had been cut -- and suggested strongly that a lot of cronyism had been going on. There wasn't a lot of serious comment about private enterprise doing it, however, because there was no "business case" to be made for it (the eventual price tag was about $25 billion in 1960s dollars). If it were to be done, it would be done by the government.

</obligatory 'lawn' comment>

Re:Question for the Old Timers (2, Insightful)

JeffAtl (1737988) | more than 3 years ago | (#33085174)

It was all about beating the Soviets. The world had learned in WWII that air superiority is the key to winning a war and space superiority was considered to be the next step.

Sputnik scared the hell out of the western world. This allowed NASA to be more aggressive and take risks that would not be acceptable in today's social climate so progress was made at a pace quick enough to excite the public.

The public also had an unrealistic idea of space as well - they expected day trips on a TWA shuttle to colonies on the moon, venus and mars within 20 years.

The worst thing to happen to NASA and manned space travel was the failure of the Soviets to reach the moon soon after the US did.

Re:Question for the Old Timers (2, Insightful)

fifedrum (611338) | more than 3 years ago | (#33086738)

but you have to address the "why" of sputnik scare and the space race in general. Putting Sputnik in orbit meant the Soviets could drop a nuke anywhere on the planet. They might not get through with bombers, but there's no stopping it from dropping out of orbit onto your home town in Nebraska.

Every rocket used in the space race up-to but not including Saturn V was a nuclear missile adopted to accept a human crew.

Re:Question for the Old Timers (3, Informative)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#33086590)

I wasn't around when Kennedy made his speech about going to the moon so I was wondering, what was the reception of the speech at the time?

My understanding is that it was lukewarm-to-positive at best, because we'd been recently and roundly spanked by the Soviets in space and because beating the Soviets was the name of the game. What there wasn't was neither a sudden nor a sustained burst of public support for going to the Moon and beyond.
 
There were cries of pork - but those centered mostly around the decision to build the new facilities in the Vice President's home state on land owned by his cronies. Not so much over the program at large. But then, there were also cries over the great expense and cost overruns of the Mercury program.
 

Republicans were much more of a financially conservative party then, did they balk at the cost and actually try and cut spending from it rather than reallocating it?

The big cuts came in '65-'67 when the true costs of the program (much, much higher than originally estimated) were becoming obvious. The costs were also pushed higher because of NASA's indulgence in gold plating and in ever increasing mission creep. (And I don't recall which side of the aisle they came from.)
 
What most people don't realize is that by the time Apollo 11 flew, the program was already running on fumes. Major hardware production had already been capped, the overall budget had already been sharply trimmed, and future programs had already been capped or eliminated. Many people blame Nixon for killing the Apollo program, but in reality all he did was pull the plug on the ventilator - the patient was already essentially dead of wounds incurred during the budget firefights in '65-'67.
 
The same applies, in reverse, to the Shuttle program. NASA started studying aircraft type reuseable spacecraft about 2 seconds after it was created, and spent considerable money and effort doing so across the 1960's. (In fact, the final study contracts for what became the Shuttle were signed while Apollo 11 was in flight!) Again, by the time Nixon arrived on the scene, the die was already largely cast - and he had greater priorities than spending political capital on space exploration, which the public cared little about so long as provided plenty of puff filled press releases, pretty pictures, and accomplishments both real and pseudo.
 
And that's really one of the keys to understanding how we got in such a mess, and why we can't seem to get out of it. There really isn't a national consensus over space exploration, and the debates raging today over basic policy are the ones we should have had forty years ago.
 

If the answer to these questions is that the response was more positive, was it Kennedy himself who paved the way for this plan to be accepted, or the general fear of the Soviets that got it pushed through?

The answer, which will surprise many people, is neither,
 
What isn't widely known (because most people only read the popular histories, not the academic ones) is that Kennedy chose the goal of landing on the moon rather hastily. He asked his advisers for a big flashy goal that the US could accomplish that the Soviet's couldn't, and of the options they offered he chose the moon landing and announced it, all within the span of a few weeks and without serious study on anyone's part. Within a few more weeks, as the costs and risks of the program became clearer, Kennedy began to seek ways to back off from supporting the program without political damage...
 
But what actually sealed Apollo's fate was an assassin's bullet in Dealey Plaza. That put one of the few major politicians that actually had any significant interest in space exploration into the Oval Office and allowed him to push the Apollo program as a monument to Kennedy.

Re:"too dangerous a landing site" (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#33083794)

ince producing the 2nd is cheaper than the 1st. Instead of building 1 or 2, we should build 20

Sure, building the second is cheaper than the building the first... The third is cheaper too - but by less than the difference between the first and second. In fact, the curve flattens out at "still pretty damm expensive" pretty quickly. This is partly because you're not really building enough for full economies of scale to kick in, and partly because there's still an enormous amount of unavoidable man hours involved in actually hand assembling and testing the things.
 
But building and launching aren't the only costs, you also have to consider operations. And since each probe requires a fully staffed and fully equipped control center 24/7 - those costs mount quickly.
 

Some will land on a boulder and never be heard from again, but some will also luck out and we'll have them in more scientifically interesting places.

The problem on Mars, as it is on Earth, is that generally the scientifically interesting places are also the places where they are 'most likely to land on a boulder'. I.E. mountains are more interesting that plains geologically speaking, and triple canopy rain forests are more interesting than plains biologically speaking.

Australis? (1)

halfEvilTech (1171369) | more than 3 years ago | (#33082872)

I am not sure where this is at, maybe it is some new must see martian tourist location. Someone show check for a few brochures I am sure we could see at least a few tickets at insane profits. It does sound quiet trendy you know, as we all know celebreties are always looking for something new and out of this world to splurge on.

Re:Australis? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33083094)

Given that Australis is the Latin word for "Southern", perhaps you could place 2 and 2 together and hopefully, make 4!

A startling find (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33083018)

A fossil of a martian laying on a couch is considered to be proof early martians developed a form of television. Other scientists have disputed the claim saying the existence of the fossil couch in no way confirms early martians developed television. The recent discovery of a fossil can of beer and what appears to be a fossilized bag of Cheetos appears to support the martian couch potato claim.

Keanu Reeves (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33083194)

Dude... We found these bogus old rocks and it totally made the news... Wow.

Starcraft publicity stunt (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33083418)

It's a zerg

Link to the original scientific paper (3, Informative)

brasselv (1471265) | more than 3 years ago | (#33083640)

Here's the link [seti.org] to the original paper.
While not a specialist, the paper looks to me FAR from suggesting anything close to what the headlines claim.
The "conclusions" of the paper state:

The presence of clay and carbonate in the Nili Fossae region suggests that biomarkers (if present) could have been preserved within these rocks, as they have been in the Pilbara region.

May be it's just the authors being understandably cautious on such a topic, on a peer-reviewed journal, with the language they are using.
(I reckon it's more likely, though, that it's the headlines erring on the excitement.)

Re:Link to the original scientific paper (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 3 years ago | (#33085486)

It's the general nature of science journalism. They have to say absurdly hyperbolic things in their headlines.

secret space program/ religious overseers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33087324)

Had to make sure when the paper was published that absolutely no direct mention of life on mars was mentioned.

Remember folks, there's a secret space program and covert ETI programs that are in direct contact with the US government. Read Philip Corso and the many other whistleblowers.

It's so fucking laughable that we have these wasteful fronts like SETI and NASA who are completely in on the reality of ETI

I know this phrase has worn out it's welcome but (1)

Ranger (1783) | more than 3 years ago | (#33086232)

I for one, welcome our new Martian Underlords.

This just in, Mars site also may hold: (1)

Nyder (754090) | more than 3 years ago | (#33092406)

unicorns!!!!!!!

and man may die tomorrow.
And slashdot may get a good article in, for once.

I'm not holding my breath though.

may shouldn't even be used in a news story.

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