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Greetings from the Red Planet
March 15, 2013 8:04 AM   Subscribe

NASA recently announced that the latest results from NASA's Curiosity Rover on Mars provide clear physical evidence that Mars once had all the conditions necessary to support life. Despite the skeptical reception given to recent news that the rover may also have found indirect evidence of organic compounds and active microbiological activity, other recent scientific results have gone even further. One Australian study from 2011 concluded, given what we know about Mars now, 3% of its total volume (as compared to 1% of Earth's) is likely habitable to known terrestrial lifeforms. And more recently, further analysis of the results of experiments performed by the 1976 Viking Lander mission suggests that we have likely detected active microbiological activity on Mars already, with one researcher going so far as to claim a 99% certainty that those earlier results detected life. (Previously).
posted by saulgoodman (78 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
LIFE almost certainly may have been possible ON MARS!
posted by Artw at 8:07 AM on March 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


The Viking result was explained later as being caused by inorganic catalysts.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:09 AM on March 15, 2013


Just in time for this.
posted by chavenet at 8:13 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I imagine this is just part of the advertising run up to the return of the Ice Warriors in this year's series of Doctor Who.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 8:15 AM on March 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


...but not as we know it, Jim.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:18 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


As astronomy is a weak point for me, can someone big picture this for me? What is the significance of the answer to the question of whether Mars may have had organic microbial life at some point in the past? I assume either way, we are not just going to fly on over and start pitching tents and setting up shop there. Is the significance that it is proof that other planets can support life? I thought that was already basically a statistical certainty. Or does the existence of microbes somehow feed into the 'we are not alone' thing?
posted by dios at 8:22 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Uh, duh." Sinise, Gary (2000)
posted by phunniemee at 8:23 AM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


if life was once supported, terraforming might be a possibility. and yeah, if life was there once, it might be other places right now. there's a difference between statistical certainty and evidence that backs it up.
posted by nadawi at 8:26 AM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


dios, my understanding is that the statistical certainty (which for intelligence civilizations would be the Drake equation) had a decent number of assumptions baked-in, as it needs to.

Actual physical evidence both:
a) Proves the correctness of those assumptions - the experimental confirmation of the theoretical argument is always good to have.
b) Might help us revise the numbers in those assumptions, by giving us a second data point to work with.
posted by Lemurrhea at 8:29 AM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I thought that was already basically a statistical certainty.

Given the sheer size of the universe, it basically is, but the uncertain thing is how common life is. The fact that it arose on Earth basically as soon as conditions allowed it might imply that life is pretty common, but it's a sample size of one.

If there was or still is also life on Mars, especially if it was the result of an independent abiogenesis, that would strongly imply that life is pretty much everywhere as opposed to, say, once every five galaxies.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 8:32 AM on March 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Is the significance that it is proof that other planets can support life?

I think that by establishing that life as we know it could have occurred on Mars, but didn't, scientists can refine theories as to why life arose here and not there.

if life was once supported, terraforming might be a possibility.

Terrafarming probably isn't possible until we figure out a way get molten material moving around Mar's solid core, which will generate a magnetic field that'll keep deadly cosmic radiation out. That'll allow an atmosphere to develop and stay and help cut down on meteor impacts

Presumably humans could burrow underground and live there, with trips up to the surface. Or live in the surface with heavily shielded buildings. Perhaps some Martian concrete and polarized glass?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:32 AM on March 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Thanks for the answers. They really help my processing of the importance of this information.
posted by dios at 8:35 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


What is the significance of the answer to the question of whether Mars may have had organic microbial life at some point in the past?

Interesting from several perspectives: first, is independently-arising life possible. If so, how would it differ (in terms of mechanics like cell structure, reproduction (chromosonal structure if any), metabolic chemistry, etc. I don't think many scientists imagine that independently-arising life would be that similar to that on Earth, since we mostly presume the details of Earth life arose somewhat randomly from the possible structures and chemical processes that might have worked. Some also wonder, if Martian life were to significantly resemble Earth life in a chemical and cellular-structure way, whether the two were in fact related (did life from one planet make its way to the other, presumably surviving somehow in meteorites that began as fragments blown off the other planet by large impacts).

Is the significance that it is proof that other planets can support life? I thought that was already basically a statistical certainty.

I'm not sure it is for the more skeptical among us. Finding independently-arisen life would give a great boost to the notion that many of those planets they have been spotting around other stars might have life too.

Or does the existence of microbes somehow feed into the 'we are not alone' thing?

Probably, but that's a kind of solipsistic angle on the subject, I've always thought. The important thing is that other life would exist, not that we can feel so much better about not being alone, which frankly is kind of pathetic, isn't it?
posted by aught at 8:35 AM on March 15, 2013


That'll allow an atmosphere to develop and stay and help cut down on meteor impacts

Whoops, mistake on my part. Mars does have an atmosphere, but it's "thin" compared to Earth.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:36 AM on March 15, 2013


Is the significance that it is proof that other planets can support life? I thought that was already basically a statistical certainty.

There's a difference between something being a statistical certainty and a fact proved with hard evidence. Because it's a lot harder to write off statistics than it is to write off "look, I've got a sample in my hand here".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:38 AM on March 15, 2013


I'm a skeptic by nature, and I can't help but notice that when it comes to this particular subject many otherwise rational people lose their skepticism and throw all scientific rigor out the window. We want this to be true for so many reasons that the slightest evidence is often hailed as a near certainty.
The fact that the researchers themselves are probably huge SciFi geeks makes their interpretation of the data even more suspect. We demand objective, unbiased, repeatable "proof" everywhere else. Why not here?
posted by rocket88 at 8:39 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


if life was once supported, terraforming might be a possibility.

Actually it might work the other way. If there were any possibility at all of independently-arisen life on Mars, it would be an abhorrent notion to risk killing it off for the sake of making the planet more comfortable for human colonists or tourists.

If Mars is sterile but has the capability of reaching a stable state with a thicker atmosphere and larger quantities of water, then terraforming would not be as difficult an ethical problem.
posted by aught at 8:41 AM on March 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


Mars now "99% certain" that constant robotic probe assault from Earth is evidence of "very annoying life"

Xoxglub-7, Chief Scientist of the Martian Aeronautics and Space Administration ("MASA"), announced today that he is "99% certain" that the constant barrage of radio-controlled space-cars landing on Mars is evidence that Earth is annoying.

"We were skeptical at first, and didn't want to jump to conclusions," said the multi-tentacled Xoxglub. "But it now seems almost certain that robot probes from Earth are fucking around all over the place on Mars, drilling into shit and taking photographs of rocks. I think most scientists agree that only a very annoying life form could be responsible for that."

President of Mars Qwiznarst-18 has called on Martians not to panic about the constant bombardment of robot cars, as the mature way to deal with the problem is to "just ignore it," adding that "they'll probably grow out of it eventually". But the discovery of annoying lifeforms on Earth has radically affected Martian society, as many believed that the pretty blue planet could only be home to sensible types of life.

"Who knows, they could even be really annoying lifeforms, who engage in constant war and prejudice and condemn half their number to extreme poverty or slavery," speculated President Qwiznast, before saying: "Ha ha ha! Only joking. No life-form in the universe could be that irritating. It's simply impossible, according to our current theories."
posted by the quidnunc kid at 8:42 AM on March 15, 2013 [52 favorites]


The fact that the researchers themselves are probably huge SciFi geeks makes their interpretation of the data even more suspect. We demand objective, unbiased, repeatable "proof" everywhere else. Why not here?

I'm under the impression they basically did find proof that Mars was once capable of supporting life. They have not yet found proof that it ever did support life or that life is still there. I think a lot of us want that to be true, a few might already be claiming it is true, but the general consensus is that there is no proof for that yet.

“Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”
― Arthur C. Clarke

posted by bondcliff at 8:42 AM on March 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


I still don't understand why we don't put an optical microscope package on one of these probes and look for direct evidence of squiggly little microbes.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:42 AM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


The fact that the researchers themselves are probably huge SciFi geeks

Honestly, I haven't found this to be true.

The serious scientist friends I think back on talking about science fiction with have tended to find that the liberties even supposedly-"hard" sf novels take wreck their appreciation of the story. Also, scientists get plenty of "sensawonda" in their own studies (and I have gotten the impression some thought that if sci-fi fans just knew more about real science, they wouldn't need sci-fi).
posted by aught at 8:46 AM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


The fact that the researchers themselves are probably huge SciFi geeks makes their interpretation of the data even more suspect. We demand objective, unbiased, repeatable "proof" everywhere else. Why not here?

These aren't just random guesses. The robots we've had exploring the surface of Mars for years now have really changed the game. Anyway, I don't think scientists are just announcing new discoveries without "proof". Unless all those sci-fi extremophile microbes are dancing around in their heads a bit too much.
posted by IvoShandor at 8:46 AM on March 15, 2013


Given that evolution is a natural process, it would would seem to me extremely unlikely that Earth is the only place where "life" would arise. Life that evolved on Earth is probably unique to the Earth, but the idea that there are not other forms of life elsewhere in the universe seems utterly at odds with evolution. That the natural process of evolution produced life only on the Earth and no where else would seem to be creationist fantasy.

I suspect they will find signs of some sort of life on Mars and eventually it'll be found more or less everywhere.
posted by three blind mice at 8:48 AM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


President of Mars Qwiznarst-18 has called on Martians not to panic about the constant bombardment of robot cars, as the mature way to deal with the problem is to "just ignore it," adding that "they'll probably grow out of it eventually".

Oh, sure, that's what he says in public, but you can bet he's quietly mobilizing the tripods.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:48 AM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


furthermore, he is going to convert the earth to communism, so that it may said that "in soviet earth, tripods mobilize YOU"
posted by pyramid termite at 9:06 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have a front page newspaper that says LIFE was found ON MARS.
Laminated, from the 1990s.

The debate is settled as far as my tabloid is concerned.
posted by Mezentian at 9:08 AM on March 15, 2013


Of course it's not proving. But the developments have been almost uniformly positive.

Look, I know it's not persuasive to everyone, but from my POV the extraordinary claim here is that Life on Earth is extraordinary. Consider the following evidence for the possibility of life, in the abstract:

1) Life is physically possible. We've seen plenty of evidence of that here on earth.
2) Life is found just about everywhere we look here on Earth.

It seems to me that if you accept the above two premises and don't hold the Earth up to be some kind of odd-ball special case (in other words, if you don't make extraordinary claims about Earth's cosmic uniqueness) then you have to accept that life is possible, as far as we know, anywhere. We just don't know enough about the varied forms life might take or that habitable environments might take to rule out that possibility.

I don't think the point about "extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary proof" is necessarily that we have to demand an extraordinary level of proof if it's only the fact of making the claim that's extraordinary--that is, if it's only "extraordinary" in the sense that it's not a claim we ordinarily hear. I think the point was more about claims that require belief in extra-ordinary things, things that allegedly can't be explained with recourse to "ordinary" science. Any claim that can be tested should be. Frequently and vigorously. But to me, it's the claim for exceptionalism--that life is likely limited to Earth--that should require extraordinary proof (like searching the entire universe, rock by rock, and finding none). Sure, we've got lots of proof that life doesn't seem to travel much (no substantial evidence of visitors from the stars, or intercepted alien TV broadcasts, for example), but that doesn't prove there's not life out there.

Isn't it likely, given what we know from evolutionary theory and Darwin's observations about life adapting interdependently to the niches in its environment, that if those same evolutionary processes govern the development of life on other planets, any sentient beings there would likely similarly find themselves confronted by the challenges created by their being so exquisitely adapted to their own particular environment? We can't survive on Mars easily, whether there's life there or not, because we adapted to life on earth. A factor like that, along with other physical energy limit related problems, would likely tend to discourage long-distance space travel. That alone might account for the slow pace of intergalactic tourism traffic to Earth, putting aside the question of whether we'd even recognize alien life if we saw it.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:09 AM on March 15, 2013






Saul, I mostly share your view, but I think the idea is that we shouldn't extrapolate from a single data point. We find life everywhere on Earth, but the Earth is still one data point: did life arise here once? Twice? A thousand times? As far as I am aware, we either don't know or are close to certain that it was once or close to once. Even when we find life in inhospitable places on Earth, it's still the case that terrestrial life has been abundant and widespread for millions of years, thus giving it many chances to adapt to extreme environments. That still leaves us with one data point.

We cannot reasonably extrapolate from those data that life would arise on planets where we would consider the entire surface to be extreme or inhospitable. We can engage in conjecture, but it's not an extraordinary claim to say that Earth may have qualities not found in abundance elsewhere. How common is it for self-replicating processes to arise from non-replicating processes? Lemurrhea has the right approach: assemble more data to plug into the variables of the Drake Equation.
posted by daveliepmann at 9:20 AM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


In related news chemotrophs have been found deep within oceanic crust cores. The boundaries on the kind of environments where microbial life is possible just keep getting bigger.

I don't think life on Earth is exceptional. Without a clear mechanism for how self-replicating organisms get boot-strapped from non-replicating inorganic molecules I don't think we can put odds on it. That theoretical gap keeps narrowing as astronomers discover more and more extraterrestial organic chemistry, but it is still a critical one.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:32 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


We cannot reasonably extrapolate from those data that life would arise on planets where we would consider the entire surface to be extreme or inhospitable.

Of course not. We agree there. Which is why I wouldn't claim it's been proven that life exists on other planets. My point is that there's no justification for the a priori conviction that life is unlikely to exist elsewhere as we don't have enough evidence to conclude that either. The right position is something like cautious optimism. It's not impossible, we know that much. That doesn't prove life is out there somewhere else. But it's extraordinary to claim there's anything so special about Earth now or in the distant past that those conditions have likely never obtained any where else in the universe over the entire span of the universe's history. Which makes life out there somewhere a lot more likely. But reason people can and should disagree. (Also I'd point out, it doesn't matter if the conditions are hospitable at the surface, necessarily, as we have observed subterranean life thriving here on earth--unless there's some evidence that life on earth began on its surface I don't know about?)
posted by saulgoodman at 9:33 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I dunno, all these microorganisms seem like a godawful small affair...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:36 AM on March 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


You obviously haven't had the kind of cold season we have in our household this year.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:39 AM on March 15, 2013


Martian life is a perennial, like fusion power.
posted by Artw at 9:43 AM on March 15, 2013


Martian life is a perennial, like fusion power.

Maybe so, but so was Heliocentrism, until it was finally accepted as fact.

The possibility of Martian life, at least, doesn't require a single revision to the known laws of physics.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:48 AM on March 15, 2013


SAAAAAAAAILORS FIGHTING IN THE DANCE HALLLLLLLLLLL
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:50 AM on March 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


In related news chemotrophs have been found deep within oceanic crust cores. The boundaries on the kind of environments where microbial life is possible just keep getting bigger.

Yes, I thought about this when I read in the post above that only 1% of the earth is inhabitable by life. Does this include the crust?

I think one of the issues with carbon sequestration is that it turns out there is life way down wherever they want to sequester carbon, which is a) bad for life and b) could cause some unknown side effect resulting in even more carbon release.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:52 AM on March 15, 2013


What is the significance of the answer to the question of whether Mars may have had organic microbial life at some point in the past?

If it had microbial life in the past, it might very well have it currently.

Two of the biggest questions for biology at this time concern abiogenesis and early microbial evolution. That gap is narrowing every year, and a good theoretical model will be the biggest thing since Darwin. But a big part of that gap is limited by that fact that almost all life on Earth appears to have a common ancestry. The discovery of truly alien (chemically speaking) microbes would offer some contrast around which to build our theories.

And on the other hand, discovery of microbes that share a common ancestor with Earth life would validate some flavors of panspermia and provide another critical branch for discussing early microbial evolution. If Earth and Mars were colonized, why not Titan and Europa?

On Preview: Fusion is easy. Doing it in a system that produces usable energy is the hard part.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:53 AM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Martian life is a perennial, like fusion power.

Yeah, we've had this conversation ten times or more.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:55 AM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


The key aspect of an actual discovery of extraterrestrial life would be how related it is to us. It could be made out of DNA that evolved from a completely separate abiogenesis. It could be something not-DNA. Or it could be DNA that shares some sort of lineage (ancestor / descendant / two branches on a tree) with life on earth.

Any of these possibilities would have incredible implications and likely result in a revolution in biology. And we could even find life on an asteroid/Europa with totally different structure/origins than life on Mars.
posted by crayz at 9:59 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Isn't it likely, given what we know from evolutionary theory and Darwin's observations about life adapting interdependently to the niches in its environment, that if those same evolutionary processes govern the development of life on other planets

Maybe adaptation is a feature only of life on Earth and not elsewhere.


Martian life is a perennial, like fusion power.

You mean, "the discovery of life on Mars is only fifty years away, and always will be"?


I still don't understand why we don't put an optical microscope package on one of these probes and look for direct evidence of squiggly little microbes.

That always works in the movies.
 
posted by Herodios at 10:10 AM on March 15, 2013


I still don't understand why we don't put an optical microscope package on one of these probes and look for direct evidence of squiggly little microbes.

Ask google and ye shall receive...
posted by spaceviking at 10:16 AM on March 15, 2013


Curiosity Rover snaps picture of life, eating Mars bar, listening to song "Life on Mars", watching TV show "Life on Mars", wearing "Choose Life" TV shirt, on Mars

-- Journalist suffers stroke trying to come up with stupidest headline
-- David Bowie to be coated in chocolate and shot into space: NASA
-- New Pope to be renamed "Pope Coincidence II" in honour of discovery
posted by the quidnunc kid at 10:22 AM on March 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


What is the significance of the answer to the question of whether Mars may have had organic microbial life at some point in the past?

I think this is a good question to ask. I personally think we are at a stage where we assume that if it happened here then it probably happened elsewhere. But I think everyone really wants to know HOW it happened here in the first place. Unfortunately because of plate tectonics and evolution, it is difficult to find an old enough record of what exactly happened 3.9 billion years ago.

However, on Mars we have a chance to find intact records of this very time period in history, and perhaps life (if it's there) will be primitive enough for us to be able to more easily decipher how it formed.

Also, if we don't find it on Mars, then we probably start thinking that forming life requires some pretty special conditions - which might help us understand it better as well.
posted by spaceviking at 10:24 AM on March 15, 2013


The problem with microscopy was discussed with the discovery of Allan Hills 84001. Microbes take a wide variety of shapes, many of those shapes can be replicated with known inorganic chemistry, and interpretation of microscopic results is very subjective. It looks like the current consensus is that microscopic features are suggestive but not conclusive.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:25 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


"We were skeptical at first, and didn't want to jump to conclusions," said the multi-tentacled Xoxglub.

Martian journalists are so racist. What does the number of Xoxglub's tentacles have to do with the story?
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 10:25 AM on March 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


1. the Pope is going to freak. (oh nooooooooo!)
2. i wonder if this push to find sustainability on Mars is something beyond what we have knowledge about (meaning they know the Earth is way f---ed so they're looking into somewhere to move people)
posted by stormpooper at 10:30 AM on March 15, 2013


microscopic features are suggestive but not conclusive

Unfortunately this is true for almost all "life detection" experiments. The Viking ones are great examples. This is why NASA talks about "habitabiliity" and "follow the water" and stuff like that now, because it is much easier to be conclusive about. Also these things are less likely to cause a 20 year haitus in new missions.
posted by spaceviking at 10:33 AM on March 15, 2013


ultraviolet catastrophe: Martian journalists are so racist. What does the number of Xoxglub's tentacles have to do with the story?

The Monotentacles run the cameras. Mulitentacles do the talking, on account of how they need the other tentacles to hold the microphones.

You should be more careful: people who live in zorze fremandles shouldn't cast gophats.

Anyhow, isn't one of the pet theories about how Mars got hit by a big, um, thing, and the pieces flew off and landed on Earth, and that's how come life got started here? We aren't going to Mars--we're going home!
posted by mule98J at 10:33 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, if we don't find it on Mars,...
posted by spaceviking at 1:24 PM on March 15 [+] [!]


Eponysterical.
posted by aught at 10:37 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


The various extremophiles that have been discovered since the ocean vent ecosystems were found makes me suspect that life takes enough firms that once a planet has it it's stuck with it forever... Complex life being a bit less guarantees though.
posted by Artw at 10:38 AM on March 15, 2013


What does the number of Xoxglub's tentacles have to do with the story?

Martian news report "evidence of Tentacle privilege," claims non-tentacled Earth life-form.

-- Tentacled life lives "on lowest difficulty setting," say experts
-- Cthulu unavailable for comment, apocalypse
-- Pope to be given tentacle implants in honour of new controversy
posted by the quidnunc kid at 10:38 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Creationists of the world, come here so I can drink your delicious tears
posted by angrycat at 10:38 AM on March 15, 2013


All of this "evidence" was planted by Satan to deceive the faithful.
posted by Avenger at 11:15 AM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


All of this "evidence" was planted by Satan to deceive the faithful.

Clearly. But how did Satan get to Mars if he (and everyone else in Hell) is trapped deep inside the molten bowels of the Earth? Hell's space program must be decades ahead of our own!
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:58 AM on March 15, 2013


Hells are clearly all interlinked, as unwary teleporters will find - cf. Doom 3.
posted by Artw at 12:04 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


All of this "evidence" was planted by Satan to deceive the faithful.

"Satan" resigned a while ago, he just goes by Lucifer now. Play piano in a bar somewhere.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:26 PM on March 15, 2013


All of this "evidence" was planted by Satan to deceive the faithful.

Laugh on. My grandmother actually said this to me when I was a teenager watching a documentary on PBS about the Voyager probes (about 35 years ago now).
posted by aught at 12:29 PM on March 15, 2013


A couple of days ago I got to visit Mars and stand with Curiosity and look around. It was as awesome as you would expect. It looked pretty much like some random vegetation free part of the US Southwest strangely missing the occasional tumbleweeds and roadrunners.

This was in an immersive 3D CAVE system at CalIT2 on the UC San Diego campus. A CAVE is a a set of 3D 4k SuperHD LCD panels (10 in this installation) reaching from floor to ceiling and wrapped around in a semi-circle, with a head tracking system. Totally almost like being there. :)
posted by zengargoyle at 12:45 PM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


And we could even find life on an asteroid/Europa with totally different structure/origins than life on Mars.

Not mention Enceladus.
posted by y2karl at 12:52 PM on March 15, 2013


That would have been in a TourCAVE with a couple of panels removed from the edges to fit in the room. The NexCAVE had a flyover of the aftermath of the big San Diego wildfires a few years ago. That one made me feel vertigo so much that I almost fell over a couple of times.
posted by zengargoyle at 12:53 PM on March 15, 2013


All of this "evidence" was planted by Satan to deceive the faithful.

I think it's pretty funny, the idea that Satan would go to the trouble of planting so much evidence that stands up to so much rigorous scientific study. Radiocarbon dating. Organic chemistry. A functional evolutionary process. Cosmic background radiation. Higgs bosons. There's a whole universe out there, and the more we dig into it, the more detailed and complex and beautiful we find out it is.

And somewhere Satan is sitting on a burning rock laughing this little Nelson Muntz laugh at us. "Gotcha! It was God all along, suckers!"
posted by mrgoat at 1:02 PM on March 15, 2013


aught: "I don't think many scientists imagine that independently-arising life would be that similar to that on Earth,"

...and yet we look for life by finding evidence of water, and expect it to create carbon-based molecules like methane. I keep wondering how much we miss because of our preconceptions.

Humanity is weird. Sometimes we are brilliant, and other times we wear blinders.
posted by caution live frogs at 1:16 PM on March 15, 2013


Sometimes we are brilliant, and other times we wear blinders.

I think it's just that we're still in the very early stages of the where-are-we-in-the-universe game. We don't really know yet what else to look for, so we start here.

In a couple hundred years, sure, we'll look properly ignorant, the way we look at folks a couple hundred years ago wondering why people get sick and think "How could they not know about germs?" even as we know they were doing their best to learn and just hadn't gotten there yet.
posted by aught at 1:21 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


...and yet we look for life by finding evidence of water, and expect it to create carbon-based molecules like methane. I keep wondering how much we miss because of our preconceptions.

We'd be looking for something otherwise imexplicable - those are pretty good examples of that.
posted by Artw at 1:25 PM on March 15, 2013


Hell's Space Program would be a good name for a bar.
posted by brundlefly at 2:42 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


In other news: No, Life Has Still Not Been Found in a Meteorite
posted by homunculus at 2:52 PM on March 15, 2013


If there were any possibility at all of independently-arisen life on Mars, it would be an abhorrent notion to risk killing it off for the sake of making the planet more comfortable for human colonists or tourists.

No. Germs, even alien germs < people.

Take samples to satisfy one's curiosity and then terraform away.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 6:37 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


We find life everywhere on Earth, but the Earth is still one data point: did life arise here once? Twice? A thousand times? As far as I am aware, we either don't know or are close to certain that it was once or close to once.

I thought the whole thing about NASA finding arsenic based life in some mud puddle somewhere started to get people to consider the possibility that the beginnings of life are constantly happening all around us, we just can't differentiate them from life that has existed since the first beginning.

I don't know hardly anything about science so maybe that isn't true or doesn't apply here.
posted by dogwalker at 7:42 PM on March 15, 2013


That was pretty thoroughly debunked, i'm afraid.
posted by Artw at 7:50 PM on March 15, 2013


oh, gotcha. thanks.
posted by dogwalker at 7:59 PM on March 15, 2013


Yeah, I don't think it's unreasonable to look for all the basic ingredients we'd expect to find where we find life on Earth. It's not that extraordinary a claim to identify life with the presence of certain organic materials, water, and carbon, as we've seen pretty much only evidence of life composed in such a way here on Earth. I think we'd need more and better evidence before we start putting too much stock in ideas about non-carbon based life. We've probably found all of the necessary pre-conditions and chemical ingredients for life as we already know it on Mars by now. We don't have a snapshot of martian microbes out for a day on the town, posing with tiny little umbrellas in front of a tiny little martian strip mall. But all the basic ingredients seem to be there, in varying degrees and in different regions, above and below the surface of Mars.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:57 PM on March 15, 2013


Well, for a fact, NASA scientists at JPL are proposing a mission to Enceladus which would fly several times through the ice plumes coming from the south pole and collect samples which would be sent back to Earth.

Of course, then The Andromeda Strain immediately comes to mind. But as the mission could take up to 30 years to complete that task, we won't have to start hyperventilating for quite awhile.
posted by y2karl at 3:03 AM on March 16, 2013


No. Germs, even alien germs < people.

Ah. The kind of thinking that Won the West.
posted by aught at 5:27 PM on March 17, 2013




No. Germs, even alien germs < people.

Ah. The kind of thinking that Won the West.


So, you are not loyal to the human race, hmm? This will be noted in your permanent record!
posted by Goofyy at 2:58 AM on March 19, 2013


If Earth and Mars were colonized, why not Titan and Europa?

The Cities of Europa Glow in Icy Fissures Beneath Jupiter's Swirling Face
posted by homunculus at 2:10 PM on March 23, 2013


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