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Where is life?
April 15, 2013 6:44 AM   Subscribe

There once were two planets, new to the galaxy and inexperienced in life. Like fraternal twins, they were born at the same time, and took roughly the same shape.
posted by lite (15 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
From the article:
“When you put it all together, there are centuries, if not millennia, of individual human investment in this thing,” Steltzner said. “So it’s a big deal, on a personal level, for all of us.” When I asked how he felt, he frowned. “I’m rationally confident and emotionally terrified,” he said. “We think we’ve crushed this fucker. But Mars, more often than not, has something waiting for us.”
No worries, y'all crushed that fucker.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:56 AM on April 15, 2013


Great article. This is the New Yorker at its best. Though I guess it helps to have a ridiculously quotable scientist in the mix.
posted by brain_drain at 7:44 AM on April 15, 2013


Between the ages of seven and seventeen, Steltzner broke thirty-two bones and got a hundred and seventy-two stitches. He can rattle them off in sequence, like body percussion: left arm, right arm, broken jaw, broken nose, mountain bike, BMX, skateboard, street luge, snapped finger, split brow, sprained joint, severed pinky. The last came from trying to slice through a bike lock with a hacksaw. The finger was reattached but still has very little feeling.

D:

This is horrifying. I'm still at 0 broken bones and 0 stitches (besides wisdom teeth).
posted by Strass at 8:14 AM on April 15, 2013


The self-eating watermelon of despair, indeed...

But what's with nasa and J.P.L. - does the New Yorker have a 'make space acronyms and abbreviations fugly' clause in its style guide?
posted by Devonian at 8:27 AM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Where is life? Baby don't hurt me, don't hurt me, no more."
You're welcome.
posted by rmless at 8:30 AM on April 15, 2013


"It’s a self-eating watermelon of despair.”

I'm gonna have to steal this expression...
posted by Strass at 8:45 AM on April 15, 2013


Fantastic article.
posted by stbalbach at 8:55 AM on April 15, 2013


At this point I don't think there's really any mystery any more about what happened on Mars. The planet is considerably smaller than Earth, and didn't have as big a liquid core or as much radioactives in it. It cooled.

Which means that vulcanism stopped. And it means the magnetic field of the planet collapsed. The solar wind then stripped away the atmosphere, and with no volcanoes no new atmosphere was being created. With most of the air gone, the planet was reduced to a lifeless hulk.

If Mars had originally been as big as Earth, things would have been a lot different.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:05 AM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


If life ever existed on Mars, he believes, it was most likely microscopic and lived more than three and a half billion years ago. But even on Earth, fossils that old are vanishingly rare. “You can count them on one hand,” Grotzinger says. “Five locations. You can waste time looking at hundreds of thousands of rocks and not find anything.”

That seems pretty important to understand.
posted by lstanley at 9:30 AM on April 15, 2013


Thoughts:

1. Of course the guy who's had 32 broken bones turns out to be a natural at physics. That just makes a poetic kind of sense.

2. Bobak Ferdowsi is adorable.
posted by limeonaire at 9:36 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


lstanley: If life ever existed on Mars, he believes, it was most likely microscopic and lived more than three and a half billion years ago. But even on Earth, fossils that old are vanishingly rare. “You can count them on one hand,” Grotzinger says. “Five locations. You can waste time looking at hundreds of thousands of rocks and not find anything.”

That seems pretty important to understand.
Flip side: the lack of water erosion, biological erosion, and diminished volcanic action should mean any such fossils will have much higher "survival" levels on Mars.

Of course, a million times almost none is still roughly the same as a milltion times absolutely none. Exploring for fossils is somewhat easier on Earth.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:05 AM on April 15, 2013


I wonder how long the gestation period was between astronomers believing that Mars was another Earth, perhaps a better more beautiful version, and then someone deciding that the inhabitants surely needed to travel millions of miles to conquer the lesser quality planet.
posted by Atreides at 10:51 AM on April 15, 2013


But what's with nasa and J.P.L. - does the New Yorker have a 'make space acronyms and abbreviations fugly' clause in its style guide?

NASA gets spelled out, in small caps, because it's an acronym, pronounced as a word. J.P.L. gets periods because it is an initialism.

And, for the most part, all acronyms and initialisms are pretty ugly.

posted by fantabulous timewaster at 11:12 AM on April 15, 2013


Wow, what an absolutely fantastic read. And yes, "self-eating watermelon of despair" is a perfect turn of phrase...
posted by RedOrGreen at 11:30 AM on April 15, 2013


When I say I want to work for NASA, it's not because I want to be an astronaut. It's because I'm studying geology and want to analyze the data they're sending back about Mars. It's all of my childhood sci-fi dreams materializing.
posted by DoubleLune at 2:27 PM on April 15, 2013


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