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Autonomous Robot Finds Life in Atacama Desert

timothy posted more than 9 years ago | from the dry-wit dept.

Robotics 124

Neil Halelamien writes "Nature and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report that a NASA-funded "robotic astrobiologist" named Zoë (a successor to the Hyperion rover) has found life in Chile's Atacama desert. The Atacama is the Earth's driest desert, with steep slopes and rugged terrain. This is the first robot to remotely detect life, finding bacteria (and lichens, in the less dry areas) by using a fluorescent imager. The robot could also spray special dyes to detect life signatures like DNA, protein, lipids, and carbohydrates. Zoë's next assignment will be to autonomously sample soil over 50 kilometers of the Atacama. The Atacama desert is thought to be similar to Mars; instruments similar to those used on the 1970s Viking missions have previously failed to detect life there."

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124 comments

first post! :) (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11986530)

Yes! First post =)

Re:first post! :) (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11986553)

biatch

Now where's my Nigerian prince when I need him.

lol

I for one.... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11986532)

...welcome our robotic overlords.

Remember, in soviet russia no one can hear you scream!

lol

NASA (1, Troll)

WillySilly (820584) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986543)

Something funded by NASA actually worked?! The apocalypse is here!

Re:NASA (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11987014)

Yes, it's true. NASA has completely revamped every single engineering process from the ground up so that now they are extremely capable and successful at lowering the bar and setting subterranean expectations so that pretty much no matter what happens it was a resounding success. Why didn't they think of that before?!?! Next up: NASA draws upon collective knowledge of the entire bag of hammers to repair/replace Hubble whilst Chinese successfully land a man on the moon using only firecrackers and drink umbrellas.

Re:NASA (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11987016)

Probably forgot to make the design team "diverse"
Somebody is getting a demotion AND a reprimand.

Contamination probably (5, Funny)

Eternally optimistic (822953) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986544)

Most likely, the researchers who put the robot in the desert didn't wash their feet properly.

Re:Contamination probably (1)

PyWiz (865118) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986645)

Indeed, if, as some other poster astutely pointed out, it hasn't rained in this desert for 100s of years, how could life be sustained?

1cm/year water due to fog (4, Insightful)

aepervius (535155) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986721)

Moisture is probably more than enough to sustain lichen and bacteria colony. Especially that this does not get that hot (link from article say it all) and part are even snowy due to altitude. Actually it may be the driest desert but not the hotest. So getting water might be a problem but eveaporation mightnot be the biggest problem. Heck, even in sahara, where you have mostly sand, you have life.

Re:Contamination probably (5, Interesting)

Wavicle (181176) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986723)

The Atacama receives a very small amount of water in the form of fog or dew. Although the Atacama is very dry, it is not very warm. Something like a million people live in the Atacama. In some particularly dry spots, they live from the water collected by giant "fog collectors" [www.exn.ca] .

Re:Contamination probably (2, Funny)

Drooling Iguana (61479) | more than 9 years ago | (#11988075)

Of course, the problem lies in finding a droid that understands the binary language of the moisture vaporators...

Face masks (3, Funny)

JThundley (631154) | more than 9 years ago | (#11988523)

I thought the idea of a fog collector was cool, so I did a little more research into the indigenous people. They wear face masks while outside to protect themselves from the elements. Here's a picture [vegatransports.com.au] .

Re:Contamination probably (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986657)

This is on Earth. Wind can blow stuff around. Sand will cool and receive some tiny amounts of moisture from condensation. While you have a point it's kind of early to say.

Re:Contamination probably (2, Insightful)

Guppy06 (410832) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986670)

Then it won't find any more signs of life when it goes along its test sample route of 50 km, as mentioned in the blurb.

Re:Contamination probably (3, Interesting)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986802)

they could have probably detected the organisms by being on site. the point is, that vikings instruments weren't able to do the same and they knew that there would be signs of life over there. it's not contamination they brought themselfs.

(you should be modded funny, but were already modded with interesting....)

Re:Contamination probably (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11986815)

I was deathly afraid that I was alone in my little "compulsion". Unfortunately my little addiction has turned into quite a problem, causing me to lose my job twice and get fined once (so far!). As long as I can remember, I was into fart smelling. I feel that farts are a person's innermost signature; their essence. There is no better way to know a person from the inside out than to smell their fecal fingerprint (why do you think dogs immediately smell each others butts upon meeting?). I kept it pretty inconspicuous for awhile, until I felt the urge to "save" the good ones to enjoy over and over again in the PRIVACY of my own home. So I began taking a box cutter knife and a pocket full of the largest ziploc bags I could buy everywhere I went. I usually work in a cubicle type environment, so there's always plenty of selection. The best time for collection, I found, was about 10 a.m. People tend to eat more fiber in the morning, and fiber is the fuel for my little gaseous packets of heaven.
I worked down the aisle from Renee. Strong legs and ass of a runner, I bet she could squeeze the life out of one on the way out. She always wore a office-casual woolen skirt and dark pantyhose. I always wanted to shove my head up that skirt and duct tape my nose to her stinkhole so I would never miss anything that came out {{{{sighs}}}}. One morning she passed my workstation and my nose hairs tingled as they caught the first whiff. She had let a silent but delightful one loose as she passed. Smelled like she **** near **** her pants. I inhaled deeply and sucked up her stink like my nose was a chimney. Grapefruit and yogurt mixed with the ineffable pungency that was Renee's inner self. I had to jostle in my seat because needly to say, I had become very excited. For the rest of the morning, I would get no more work done. My eyes and desires were fixed upon Renee's workstation. Finally I saw her leave her cubicle and I made my move. Beating thunderously, my heart threatened to burst through my chest, and my neck muscles tensed and felt as if I wore a tire around my throat. Nervously fumbling with the box cutter between sweaty fingers, I drew it out and plunged it into the the fabric covering of her seat. I could smell the sweetness as my head was still two feet away. Carving it like a thanksgiving turkey, I removed a good chunk, only leaving about two inches of outer perimeter. Frantically, my other hand managed to draw apart a ziploc from the group and I got it open with the aid of my teeth. As I shoved my little memento into the bag and sealed it, I looked up and saw the disgusted face of Renee. Before I could open my mouth, she was gone; and so was I.
Later that day, I ended up deleting the over 30 VERY ANGRY messages I got from my (former) employer. My final check was short $250 for the chair, buuuuut to this day, I still have a well preserved piece of Renee, sitting high in my closet within a ziploc. I can still reminesce over her sweet little rectum.

How deep can it drill? (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11986547)

A lot of the serious speculation that I have read is that life may exist well under the surface.

how dry is dry? (3, Interesting)

MC68000 (825546) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986551)

Just an interesting tidbit, it has not rained in the Atacama desert for 100s of years.

http://www.extremescience.com/DriestPlace.htm

Re:how dry is dry? (3, Informative)

double-oh three (688874) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986800)

Huh? Even the site you linked says it does rain from time to time, just rarely.

"The annual rainfall (or lack of it) defines a desert, but that doesn't mean that it never rains in Atacama. "

Re:how dry is dry? (3, Funny)

hublan (197388) | more than 9 years ago | (#11987069)

Guess he was not specific enough. The TFA's sidebar says:

"Some places in the Atacama Desert have not had rainfall for over 400 years!"

That's like... the Anti-Seattle.

Re:how dry is dry? (1)

Fnord (1756) | more than 9 years ago | (#11987683)

Hey, this winter we're having a drought. At least its a drought by our standards (I look out the window and notice it's raining right now).

Re:how dry is dry? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11987856)

..but it's a "dry heat"...

IANABiologist (4, Insightful)

thedustbustr (848311) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986552)

Why would life on mars necessarily be DNA-based, and why would protiens and lipids nessarily evolve if life evolves? Certainly, other methods of reproduction may have evolved.

Re:IANABiologist (4, Insightful)

Toresica (788403) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986585)

Sure, we might not recognise life if we find it. But we know DNA-based life works - why not look for it?

I've heard speculation that the first microbes might have come to Earth from Mars - if so, it would likely be somewhat similar to life here.

Re:IANABiologist (1)

Micah (278) | more than 9 years ago | (#11987143)

> I've heard speculation that the first microbes might have come to Earth from Mars

There are numerous problems with that theory. Mars was only debatably suitable for life production for a short time around 3.8 billion years ago. Before that, it was affected by the late heavy bombardment, as was earth, that would have made any form of life impossible. Not long after that, the atmosphere on Mars became such that it would have not been able to produce life -- any liquid water would have boiled due to the low atmospheric pressure. Harmful rays from the sun also would have been a far greater problem than on earth. Life would have only had a few tens of millions of years maximum to form and get on an earth-bound rock. Plus, Mars contains even less evidence of proper chemical conditions for origins of life than does early earth.

Re:IANABiologist (3, Insightful)

KitFox (712780) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986628)

Why would life on mars necessarily be DNA-based, and why would protiens and lipids nessarily evolve if life evolves? Certainly, other methods of reproduction may have evolved.

I actually have to agree with this observation completely. If we consider that our definition of life seems to include specific chemicals and processes and results, and that we really have no other definitions of life, then I suppose that we have no other choice but to see in tunnel vision.

The issue I think is that perhaps we have too strict a definition of "what is necesary for life". Consider: With the recent article [slashdot.org] on self-replicating rapid prototypers, how far are we away from the possibility of machines that can consume raw materials, process them to create power and more complex materials, and possibly reproduce new copies of themselves? That fits the most basic definition of 'life' already. But there's no DNA, or protiens, or any other such things involved.

Maybe we need to start revising our views on what constitutes "signs of life" if we want to have accurate findings. Either that or realize that we can only search for "Life as we know it" specifically.

Re:IANABiologist (0, Troll)

wrf3 (314267) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986739)

Self-replicating rapid prototypers were initially designed. We can't have scientists go around looking for life that came about except by random natural processes, can we?

Note to mods and metamods (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11987217)

Above comment may be sarcasm, but looks more like a creationist troll. Treat accordingly.

Re:IANABiologist (4, Interesting)

flyingsquid (813711) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986736)

Why would life on mars necessarily be DNA-based, and why would protiens and lipids nessarily evolve if life evolves? Certainly, other methods of reproduction may have evolved.

One possibility is that the Martian life and Earth life are related. If rocks can be blown off the surface of Mars and land here- and presumably, vice-versa- it's quite possible that in the early days around 3-4 billion years ago, impact ejecta formed a sort of interplanetary shuttle service for microbes. If Mars became habitable before Earth, it's even possible life actually evolved there, and then was seeded here.

Re:IANABiologist (1)

heptapod (243146) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986740)

Psht, why does alien life have to have the same chirality as Earthly life? NASA or any other space agency could just redo the old Viking experiment. This was covered recently [newscientist.com] on Slashdot. A little more can be found here [rednova.com] .

IAABiologist (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11986751)

I am a biologist and can tell you that you're absolutely correct. The scientific term for these non-DNA-based creatures is "life, Jim, but not as we know it".

Re:IANABiologist (1)

rah1420 (234198) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986891)

Reminds me of that old "Final Exam" question:

Biology: Create life. Estimate the differences in subsequent human culture
if this form of life had developed 500 million years earlier, with special
attention to its probable effect on the English Parliamentary System. Prove
your thesis.

Re:IANABiologist (2, Interesting)

Decaff (42676) | more than 9 years ago | (#11987170)

Why would life on mars necessarily be DNA-based, and why would protiens and lipids nessarily evolve if life evolves? Certainly, other methods of reproduction may have evolved.

Because life has almost certainly been regularly transferred throughout the solar system as a result of meteors. A meteor strike can splash material away from the site of impact at speeds greater than the escape velocity of Earth or Mars or any other inner-solar-system planet. This is why we find 'Martian meteorites' on Earth. It has been demonstrated that bacterial can survive the force of such impacts and remain viable. Bacterial spores could certainly survive for a considerable time in space. I would be amazed if at least bacterial life was not found on Mars, and I would expect it to be directly related to Earth bacteria.

Incidentally, this is why we need not worry about bringing back dangerous microbes from Mars during future sample return missions - contaminated samples of rock are being exchanged between Earth and Mars (and other solar system bodies) all the time.

Re:IANABiologist (1)

CarpetShark (865376) | more than 9 years ago | (#11987569)

Agreed. This is the problem with SETI etc.: they're looking for radio waves, which is what WE choose to make, in a certain kind of human society that just happens to be successful dominant at the moment. If we ever find aliens, I'm not even sure we'll be able to find a common frame of reference, never mind a compatible communication technology, or recognisable DNA. Still, I guess there's a good chance that any lifeform will break down known energy sources in a known way, thereby producing detectable by-products, and SETI is a nice compliment to that, as an entirely different approach that covers the other end of the spectrum (no pun intended).

Re:IANABiologist (2, Funny)

dakirw (831754) | more than 9 years ago | (#11987708)

Very true. More advanced civilizations may have gone into stealth mode to avoid being detected by more aggressive/hostile civilizations. If so, our radio transmissions might be causing us a lot of problems in the future.

It would be ironic if our demise really was due to pop culture.

Answers! (2, Funny)

RobertTaylor (444958) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986560)

The big question is will they find life on Earth?

Re:Answers! (2, Funny)

Timesprout (579035) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986582)

No, the big question is will they find intelligent life on Earth.

Re:Answers! (1)

KitFox (712780) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986681)

No, the big question is will they find intelligent life on Earth.

They haven't studied cats or dolphins enough yet to figure it out. ;)

Re:Answers! (3, Interesting)

mikael (484) | more than 9 years ago | (#11987053)

They haven't studied cats or dolphins enough yet to figure it out. ;)


Whenever I run the various OpenGL demos on my computer, it's always funny to see one of our cats lift up a paw and try and "catch" the rotating object (eg torus) or even just the cursor. The most interesting reaction was when 'glgears' was running, and I couldn't understand why my cat kept looking at the power button. Then I realized it was essentially the symbol of the green gear.

Now we've found life on Earth... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11986566)

...we can start looking for intelligent beings.

Really?! Life on Earth?! (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11986571)

I can't believe it.. must be a software error...

And now for the hard part... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11986572)

And now for the hard part... ..Sending the robot to Mars...

Re:And now for the hard part... (1)

Ayaress (662020) | more than 9 years ago | (#11988084)

If the history of space travel has told us anything, it's that getting the robot to Mars is the easy part. Getting it to work once it's there is another matter.

How much does this cost? (3, Interesting)

sonsonete (473442) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986573)

Just out of curiosity, does anyone know how much was spent to create this robot? Or, how big is it (the pictures make it look small, but they can be deceiving)? I'm just curious about the likelihood of devices like this going to Mars any time soon.

Re:How much does this cost? (3, Informative)

TeaQuaffer (809857) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986768)

Zoë is 1x2x2 meters (h, w, l) and was developed by Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute with 3 or 4 million in NASA grants more info here [cmu.edu]

Wtf? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11986581)

They're sending mars landers to a desert now?

Yeah, thats cheap... I guess NASA's budget has been cut again.

Re:Wtf? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11988159)

I gess you would send the robots without testing first?

Autonomous robot takes pride in it's work... (4, Funny)

kaleco (801384) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986594)

...demands pay rise and more more holidays.

Re:Autonomous robot takes pride in it's work... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11987167)

...and claims all property rights on its "discoveries".

Careful.... (1)

gt_swagger (799065) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986613)

You don't want to disturb the natives [breathe.com] on Mars. I know I don't want to listen to Hank Williams music to get rid of them should we make them angry.

Re:Careful.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11986716)

Kee-rist, there's a huge difference between Hank Williams and Slim Whitman. Think about that the next time you confuse The Beatles with Blink 182.

for those of you using NASA World Wind.... (1)

Doppler00 (534739) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986630)

The Atacama desert is in this region [tinyurl.com] . I think that link will work, at least it did on my machine.

Lichens? (1)

Jacco de Leeuw (4646) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986649)

Ah, Lichens [wikipedia.org] ...

"Lichens are symbiotic organisms made up by the association of microscopic green algae or cyanobacteria and filamentous fungi."

Re:Lichens? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11988420)

"Lichens are symbiotic organisms made up by the association of microscopic green algae or cyanobacteria and filamentous fungi."

What--I can't even pee in the desert now?!?

article extract (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11986650)

Autonomous Robot Finds Life in Atacama Desert

"The robot, named Zoe, escaped from a Palo Alto robotics research laboratory earlier this year. Scientists assumed it was lost until tourists photographed it in a remote part of the Atacama desert this week. In a statement to the police the robot said "I'm not going back to the lab. I've made friends out here, why would I leave?"

Re:article extract (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11987743)

Is one of its new friends called "Old Ben Kenobi"? No wonder they couldn't find it.

I guess they can stop putting its picture on the sides of oil cans now.

Hmmm... (1, Insightful)

PyWiz (865118) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986653)

The Atacama desert is thought to be similar to Mars; instruments similar to those used on the 1970s Viking missions have previously failed to detect life there.

Let me get this straight, these robots failed to detect life on earth, yet we spend billions of dollars to send them to Mars where they would, once again, fail to find life? Hurrah for the federal bureaucracy!

second look at life on Mars? (3, Interesting)

dahlek (861921) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986665)

... instruments similar to those used on the 1970s Viking missions have previously failed to detect life there.

Whatever happened with that study about the chemical reactions they found on Mars - and thought was life at first - following the day-cycle (the 25 hours of sunlight on Mars or something similar)? I thought the verdict was still out on this?

Re:second look at life on Mars? (1)

Rylz (868268) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986718)

The Atacama desert is thought to be similar to Mars; instruments similar to those used on the 1970s Viking missions have previously failed to detect life [astrobio.net] there.

Although the wording is pretty odd, if you follow the link, you'll see that they're talking about a failure to detect life in the Atacama desert, not on Mars.

Re:second look at life on Mars? (3, Informative)

mbrother (739193) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986788)

Yes, you're right that the Viking experiments on Mars were not unanimous about not detecting life. At least one of them did, but in the absence of the other experiments supporting the result, consensus drifted toward "unusual chemistry" to explain it. But that's not a complete consensus by any means. Here's one link about on the pro-life side: http://mars.spherix.com/

Re:second look at life on Mars? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11987798)

So they found snap, but no crackle and pop.

homegrown (4, Funny)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986680)

Good thing they didn't demo the device before Congress: there's certainly no intelligent life to detect there.

Re:homegrown (1)

PyWiz (865118) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986711)

Good thing this device doesn't have anything to do with _intelligent_ life either...

Re:homegrown (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11987578)

This thing just detects life, not intelligence.

Clearly, as there is plenty of parasitism in Congress, it would detect life!

Hmm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11986682)

Maybe if we go on trying to find life on Mars with these things, eventually nature will create life that can eat them? There sure is a lot of energy in there...

Life on mars bit (3, Informative)

PxM (855264) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986717)

It should be noted that the claim about whether life on Mars exists is not without contrevery. Levin contends [spherix.com] that the Viking probes did detect evidence of life on Mars based on biochemical signatures. This past evidence is now supported by the belief that Mars might have an organic methane source. There is also some evidence that Viking detected a circadian rhythm, but like all conclusions draw on such a limited data set, there are a lot of interpretations.

--
Want a free iPod? [freeipods.com]
Or try a free Nintendo DS, GC, PS2, Xbox. [freegamingsystems.com] (you only need 4 referrals)
Wired article as proof [wired.com]

From the Life On Mars Dept. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11986735)

zib zab zab zazo zaza zib zab zab ziza zab zazo zab.

Of course they found life... (3, Funny)

tinrobot (314936) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986764)

Because they went out on a Saturday night.

During the week, the Atacama desert is really dead.

Re:Of course they found life... (1)

geordieboy (515166) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986844)

Not so! Come on down to the Funk Shack behind that scree outcrop on Mesa 5. Tuesday night is hardcore jungle tunes, DJ Phage in da house spinnin' the wheels of steel. Phat ass bass, in yer face. Stillsuit recommended.

damn special characters (0)

cfavader (754724) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986789)

They just had to use an 'ë' didn't they...

Haven't people realized that the average user doesn't know how to insert special characters, thus making them less likely to search and thus care abou it?

Re:damn special characters (1)

Brutulf (725176) | more than 9 years ago | (#11986877)

Haven't people realized that the average user doesn't know how to insert special characters, thus making them less likely to search and thus care abou it?

Heard about "copy and paste"?

Re:damn special characters (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11987514)

"Damn special characters" only for those who do not use and electronically communicate in a language with the umlaut-e. alt+203 is Ë and alt+0235 is ë. It is simple. Also frequent but non-English letters for reference: Ä (alt+0196), ä (alt+0228), Ï (alt+0207), ï (alt+0239), Ö (alt+0214), ö (alt+0246), Ü (alt+0220), ü (alt+0252). Specialised frequent characters German eszett: ß (alt+0223), Euro currency (alt+0128).

Re:damn special characters (0, Flamebait)

Phroggy (441) | more than 9 years ago | (#11988346)

Haven't people realized that the average user doesn't know how to insert special characters

The average American, you mean?

Re:damn special characters (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11988538)

And you non-Americans can get the fuck off our internets.

WooT fp (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11986818)

800 w/512 Megs of Than its Windows support GNAA, Purposes *BSD is clear she couldn't cycle; take a Fact there won't ink splashes across mutated testicle of Things in we don't sux0r as However I don't Prima donnas to Kreskin turd-suckingly too, can be a would be a bad the resources that Come on baby...and and has instead that the project Let's kkep to distribution. As forwards we must Creek, abysmal by fundamental AS IT IS LICENSED are about 7000/5 of the above to place a paper Are incompatible Channel, you might and executes a Milestones, telling to the original

yeah.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11986828)

I found life up my girlfriends vag... Turned out to be a three week old lump of brie. Excellent vintage. Nutty.

In related news (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11986843)

"...The robot could also spray special dyes to detect life signatures like DNA, protein, lipids, and carbohydrates..."

In related news, Atacama tribe sues NASA for building spray-painting robot, spoiling natural habitat of ancient desert. NASA plans bigger robot equipped with boom box and head scarf to verify once and for all that life does not exist there. "Instead of trying to find life, we figured we just keep making our robots more and more annoying until some alien shows up with a ray gun."

dyes? (2, Funny)

CaptainPinko (753849) | more than 9 years ago | (#11987019)

"The robot could also spray special dyes to detect life signatures like DNA, protein, lipids, and carbohydrates."

Hopefully they are non-toxic. Otherwise "Good news: we found life. Bad news: we just killed it". Especially if you are looking for life in difficult landscapes you don't know how endangered something is.

It's ALIVE!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11987123)

OK That's enough

Atacama similar to Mars, really? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11987227)

So the Atacama is similar to Mars? Well both may be dry, but the Atacama temperature range is 0..25'C, and Mars is, well, a lot colder?

Don't just assume this robot will function correctly on Mars at Martian temperatures (or even after the space travel at inter-stellar temperatures (let a alone the radiation)), or that its various detection methods that function happily in the -10..+35'C zone will work happily at Martian temperatures and atmospheric pressures.

Interesting that the article didn't mention either of these, and a quick scan of the Slashdot replies missed these relatively obvious problems.

Life (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11987498)

Why is anyone surprised when life is found in other place (than Earth) in the Universe? I think it is the result of a B.S. religious disconnection from reality condition (a psychopath-type belief). Not the kind you get from a University. The kind you get from believing you are the center of the Universe.

Arrogance is the hallmark of the anti-scientist.

Just wondering... (1)

Dewrf (553486) | more than 9 years ago | (#11987593)

i'm just wondering why is it that when probes and satalights and robots takes ages to goto the other planets in are system that they don't send a whole load at once? I mean if it is because we can only send up a certin size and weight why don't we brake up a probe into smaller bits and send each bit up into orbit like we do with the station? then when all the bits are up there we just strap them together and send the whole load off that way even if one or two bots or devices don't work some will and we would have not wasted the months or years it tock to get there?

Re:Just wondering... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11988025)

Expense. Space is a harsh environment, a lot does not function properly and what is engineered to properly function in that environment is expensive as well as being rather heavy. As transit to other planets takes years the expenses required to send multiple identical probes are more efficiently alloted to the development and sending of a better probe-one with any useful refinements made based on the failures and problems with the previous probes.

I've been there (3, Informative)

hey! (33014) | more than 9 years ago | (#11988301)

It is incredibly dry.Along the coast, there is some very sparse plant life sustained by camachaca -- a mist that blows in off the sea for a few hours in the morning. Except at a few places like Pan de Azucar national park the camachaca doesn't reach very far inland, so plant life drops of dramatically within a km of the coast. A brief hike inland brings you to a blasted, arid, and apprenlty sterile moonscape. I liked to jog inland in the cool, bright and dry early morning.

If you're anywhere near habitation, it's not unusual to see bits of garbage and bits of toilet paper from campers blowing around -- without moisture to break it down it hangs around forever. Archaeologists have found Inca textiles that had been dropped in the Atacama desert that after 500 year were in nearly perfect condition.

When I was there, it had been over five years since the last rainfall. Yet the following year, they had a small rain storm. My relatives, who were doing research there, said that within days the desert was completely covered with tiny, colorful flowers. My sister in law said that if you walked among them, the fragence was so overpoweringly sweet it made you retch. And of couse this display wasn't intended for humans -- it was for the vast clouds of insects that emerged from the apparently sterile soil to pollinate the flowers.


Obviously, there is a tremendous amount of life latent in the soil. There is a huge difference between a few inches of rain per decade and no rain at all.

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