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Life On Mars's Meethane Traces Thought To Be Detected
March 28, 2004 10:38 PM   Subscribe

Life on Mars? Methane has been found in the Martian atmosphere which scientists say could be a sign of present-day life on Mars. It was detected by telescopes on Earth and has recently been confirmed by instruments onboard the European Space Agency's orbiting Mars Express craft. Methane lives for a short time in the Martian atmosphere so it must be being constantly replenished. There are two possible ways to do this. Either active volcanoes, but none have yet been found on Mars, or microbes. The Independent has it as Methane find on Mars may be sign of life. The second group to detect signals of methane in the Martian atmosphere is led by Michael Mumma of Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Centre in Maryland, who used powerful spectroscopic telescopes based on Earth. This team is even believed to have detected variations in the concentrations of methane, with a peak coming from the ancient Martian seabed of Meridiani Planum, which is being explored by a Nasa rover. This could indicate a subterranean source of methane which is pumping out the gas, either due to some residual geological activity or because of the presence of living organisms producing it as a waste gas. Asked whether the continual production of methane is strong evidence of a biological origin of the gas, Dr Mumma said: "I think it is, myself personally." As to how...
posted by y2karl (25 comments total)

 
Here is the paper Methane and Carbon Dioxide Hydrates on Mars: Are There Sufficient Natural Resources on Mars to Sustain Human Habitation ? (PDF) hypthesizes the presence of subsoil depostist methane hydrates on Mars, with the prerequisite Martian methane originating from either magmatic processes, anaerobic deep biosphere activity or the combination of the two. UMass Scientists Find Environment on Earth that Mimics Mars Geochemically and Supports Ancient Life Form describes a similar anaerobic archobacteria found on Earth. Spider-Ravine Models and Plant-like Features on Mars -Possible Geophysical and Biogeophysical Modes of Origin (PDF) is intriguing as well.
posted by y2karl at 10:39 PM on March 28, 2004


which hypothesizes for hypthesizes there
posted by y2karl at 10:43 PM on March 28, 2004


there could very well be life on mars but it writes so fucking small we'll never notice.
posted by quonsar at 11:30 PM on March 28, 2004


That's because it's bacterial life.
posted by y2karl at 11:44 PM on March 28, 2004


Thanks for the links to the source docs this story has floated around for says and seemed to be on the verge of being more than a leak I guess it is official now, we (may have) found life through flatulence.
posted by stbalbach at 11:46 PM on March 28, 2004


You know, we spend an awful lot of time and treasure trying to find life somewhere else than our own pale blue dot. As someone who believes it likely that life exists elsewhere (the Universe is big and old), I am still curious why people feel so driven to confirm it. Exactly what benefit do we get from finding out that there are (or were once) microbes on Mars, and why do we spend so much money on it? Even in terms of pure research science, I am not sure what benefit it provides.

Anyone have any thoughts about this?
posted by moonbiter at 1:11 AM on March 29, 2004


Moonbiter:

It has to do with the scientific desire to prove and classify everything. To say that the universe has 11 dimensions is one thing, to mathematically work out the equations is another, and to find experimental proof that the other seven exist is yet another thing. For us to know is for us to have evidence.

Similarly, life on other planets is only a theory until we find that first microbe on Mars or mollusks on Europa. It will take speculation and give us proof, and at the same time it will open a whole new line of inquiry on how life evolved on to our planet. In short, it's because it's just really fascinating, and we'd like to know about it.
posted by thecaddy at 1:29 AM on March 29, 2004


Plus, it would be fun watching the fundamentalists try to come up with an explanation as to why there's no mention in the Bible that God pulled off another creation over in the next county, so to speak.
posted by Optamystic at 1:32 AM on March 29, 2004


Also, I do believe the study of life on other planets will help bring people to conclusions never before even considered. It may eventually improve health care, and a vast amount of other things.

Look at other advances, and how they have changed everyone's ways of thinking through their discovery and, simply by thinking differently (I hate you Jobs for co-opting that phrase) we get a new result never considered possible.

Who knows? Maybe martian life might hold a cure for viruses!
posted by shepd at 2:17 AM on March 29, 2004


God pulled off another creation over in the next county, so to speak.

And on the eigth day, it farted, and it was quite pungeant.
posted by homunculus at 3:11 AM on March 29, 2004


Religious folks actually would have a field day if it is shown there is life on Mars. Look! God made all forms of life throughout the cosmos, but only on Earth are humans made in his (or her or its) Image...once again, we will return to a view of an earth-centered universe...except parking easier on Mars.
posted by Postroad at 4:16 AM on March 29, 2004


Fundamental science is an activity that brings benefits to society. It also costs a lot of money and has therefore been highly politicized for decades. NASA is a government agency. It's easy for most people here to see the self-interest involved in any other government employee's public pronouncements. Why do people resist subjecting the government's press releases about Mars to the same scrutiny we apply to its press releases about Iraq?

It's possible to carry out a lot of good scientific research using unmanned probes to detemine the geology and atmospheric conditions on Mars. There's also a ton of work to be done in understanding the breadth of anaerobic life in extreme environments on Earth. That research would be very hard to fund without Bush's political goal of Mars exploration and the media interest into life on other planets.

It's a lot easier to promote far-fetched ideas about life on Mars, commercial mining, and future human colonies on Mars. It's worth remembering how many of these types of stories were told during the era of moon exploration, and how few of the supposed benefits actually materialized. The real benefits came from satellite communications and the incredible ecological impact of being able to observe the Earth as a whole from space, but those goals would never have justified the investment in Apollo.

The scientific papers y2karl links to contain some genuinely interesting but very very limited results wrapped in a completely hypothetical and speculative story designed to promote the career of the researchers. I'm automatically sceptical of any popular science reporting that doesn't contain a detailed explanation of the limits of our current knowledge, both theoretical and experimental. We don't have any evolutionary explanation of how life on Mars could have developed, nor why it would use the same chemical pathways as known life on Earth. We are currently fumbling around looking for chemical signatures that pique our interest. It's very questionable to say that we are any closer to the discovery of life on Mars or to a theoretical explanation for why it would be there and what it would look like.

I expect to see a lot more reports of exciting speculation about life on Mars this year. They promote the government's interest in justifying funding for space activities whose primary side benefit is in military applications, and they promote the researchers' interests in presenting their valid but limited research as part of a hot topic that can gain lots of funding. Meanwhile, there will be no discussion of our overall priorities for funding scientific research.
posted by fuzz at 4:33 AM on March 29, 2004


For those of us with a reasonably high resolution monitor and the [small] font size actually set to a small font size, that post is utterly unreadable, karl. Just FYI.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:08 AM on March 29, 2004


Stav, in Mozilla, Ctrl-+ enlarges the font size. Keeps me from having to admit that I'm old enough to need reading glasses. I don't know what the equivalent shortcut is in IE, but you can use the "View -> Text Size" menu.
posted by fuzz at 5:34 AM on March 29, 2004


I am still curious why people feel so driven to confirm it

Some of it's in the implications for interstellar life.

Especially if it could be demonstrated that such life was a separate evolution -- that neither Martian nor Terran life was started by microbes from t'other hitching a ride on a meteor -- finding life on Mars has real implications for life elsewhere, if only by the principle of mediocrity.

If life arose separately *twice* (or more) in one utterly boring stellar system, that implies a universe that's absolutely dripping with life. If there's nothing special about Sol, but its planets came up with life twice, then we should expect lots and lots and lots of stellar systems to have life. In other words, life would be more the norm than the exception, at least for stellar systems with stars similar to ours and with planets whose orbits are somewhere between Venus-equivalent and Mars-equivalent.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:41 AM on March 29, 2004


If life arose separately *twice* (or more) in one utterly boring stellar system

Couldn't Earth microbes travel to Mars (and no, I don't mean in tiny spaceships)? Meteorites have come from Mars (thrown up by impact, I think).
posted by lathrop at 5:54 AM on March 29, 2004


Silly question, but does anyone know of any serious, academic xenobiology being done in the ivory towers or is this simply a contradiction in terms?

Some Googling reveals that there appears to be something going on at Moscow's Puschino State University, but otherwise all I can find is sci-fi links galore. Anyone know anything about this?

With apologies for asking but having doubted that a credible parapsychology programme existed, I've resolved not to be so dismissive in future. (Ever the rationalist, me, the 'what book are you' link thought that I was 'A Theory of Justice' *sighs*, ok, so I'm dull...)

On preview: ROU_Xenophobe; it would be one hell of a rebuttal of the Fermi paradox, wouldn't it?
posted by dmt at 6:11 AM on March 29, 2004


Why do people resist subjecting the government's press releases about Mars to the same scrutiny we apply to its press releases about Iraq? -- Fuzz
Fuzz, meet Faze. You are so right. NASA has been pulling off the biggest con job since Y2K remediation. The endless series of breathless promises of evidence of life on Mars go out virtually unchallenged by the same hard-headed skeptics who ravage every other government pronouncement. The whole space agency is full of clever scientists and engineers (many of them my friends and co-workers) who want to keep their fun jobs and government-funded research projects, and who will say or do almost anything to keep them. Yeah, it would be interesting to know if there is life on Mars or not, but "interesting" does not justify the mind-boggling expenditure of the people's treasure that has already been spent, and is being proposed to be blown into space for these pointless trips. If the government is so obsessed with learning about "life" and its genesis, we should spend the same money attempting to create life in the laboratory. Now THAT would be an accomplishment, and might actually spin off some useful knowledge.
posted by Faze at 6:30 AM on March 29, 2004


is there anything here that we needed to mars for? the telescope detection seems to be sufficient.

also, stavros, what is the point of setting your browser so that small text is unreadable? it's like meatball toothpaste sizes. or something.
posted by andrew cooke at 7:19 AM on March 29, 2004


to go to mars for. sorry.
posted by andrew cooke at 7:20 AM on March 29, 2004


More than 3.5 billion years after nature transformed non-living matter into living things, populating Earth with a cornucopia of animals and plants, scientists say they are finally ready to try their hand at creating life.

Science on verge of new `Creation':Labs say they have nearly all the tools to make artificial life.
posted by john at 7:29 AM on March 29, 2004


Is there life on Mars?
posted by riffola at 7:37 AM on March 29, 2004


Thanks for that Chicago Tribune link about the efforts to create artificial life in the lab, John. "Some experts see this new technology as providing unlimited benefits" the article says -- and gives as an example "sweaters that repair themselves." Hoo-boy. I can't wait. This article is just like NASA's self-serving self-promotion: Promises, promises, and very little solid information. All that they can say is "We're close! We're this [holds thumb and forefinger together] close to creating life in the lab." But when someone's really close to making a breakthrough, they don't make announcements about how close they are. They make the breakthrough. I'm still waiting.
posted by Faze at 8:56 AM on March 29, 2004


Yeah, it would be interesting to know if there is life on Mars or not, but "interesting" does not justify the mind-boggling expenditure of the people's treasure that has already been spent, and is being proposed to be blown into space for these pointless trips.

Does not justify it to you, which is fine. But it is definitely justified to me.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 8:59 AM on March 29, 2004


also, stavros, what is the point of setting your browser so that small text is unreadable? it's like meatball toothpaste sizes. or something.

My [small] text setting (8 point, I think it is) is quite readable when used in a short aside or something, which is (perhaps arguably) its best use, but when it's several hundred words of italicized small text it most definitely is not.

Whatever, though. No big deal. Just wanted to note that pushing the typeographic envelope detracts from the post rather than enhancing it, in my humble. Won't someone think of the children squinty?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:05 PM on March 29, 2004


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