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Life suspected, WMDs probable
February 21, 2005 6:02 PM   Subscribe

ESA scientists announced that a giant sea is hidden under the Martian surface. With discoveries like this and weird photos like this, how long can it be before we find conclusive proof of extraterrestrial life?
posted by borkingchikapa (30 comments total)

 
I would love to see microbes show up on Mars, it would show that a lot of our earth based science works at least as well beyond our surroundings.

I also can't wait to hear how the world's religions would take the news.
posted by mathowie at 6:08 PM on February 21, 2005


The team think a catastrophic event flooded the landscape ... and a strange man was heard mumbling about animal pairs and cubits.
posted by R. Mutt at 6:16 PM on February 21, 2005


I'm still worried about our probes and landers accidentally contaminating Mars with Terrestrial microbes.

Still, this is exciting stuff that I would love to - but likely won't be able to - get involved with.

mathowie I suspect, sadly, that they'll take the news like all the other news that contradicts their pre-conceived notions.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 6:18 PM on February 21, 2005


mathowie: here's my prediction on religious reaction, for what's its worth : *entity* created universe, after all it's not clear if there was something before so called "Big Bang" neither there is definitive proof of Big Bang theory. No biggie we didn't know about life on Mars, we are not on Mars...or maybe *entity* designs aren't entirely understandable or something along the line "it doesn't come as a surprise if you read accurately"

I guess something other then human, yet as powerful as human is needed to seriously shake foundation of same religion.
posted by elpapacito at 6:24 PM on February 21, 2005


Isn't this on some Total Recall shit? If there is this much water on Mars, how long until Halliburton comes up with a plan to re-warm the planet or otherwise dig up the sea so that it does sublimate, the water cycle resumes, and Mars returns to its life-giving state?
posted by Embryo at 6:42 PM on February 21, 2005


I also can't wait to hear how the world's religions would take the news.

Might find an answer to that in this piece from the NYT:
But what if the designer did not style each species individually? What if he/she/it merely fashioned the primal cell and then let evolution produce the rest, kinks and all? That is what the biologist and intelligent-design proponent Michael J. Behe has suggested.
posted by piskycritter at 6:45 PM on February 21, 2005


No, clearly when bacteria are shown to be living on Mars, the churches, temples, and mosques will simply close up shop, stop telling people to love one another, and let gay people marry. Duh. What, do atheists look forward to the discovery of extraterrestrial life like dispensational fundies look to the Rapture?

Snarkiness aside, don't get too excited just yet. Right now, we're at the "these-formations-could-have-been-caused-by-water" stage, but it doesn't look like ESA is certain of other factors yet. New Scientist is a bit more cautious in their language on the subject.

I'll be thrilled to learn of equatorial water on Mars: not only does that bode well for future colonization and terraforming, but close to the equator is the best place from which to launch spacecraft, just as on Earth, and hopefully by then we'll have perfected hydrogen-powered engines which need only water for fuel, like in A.C. Clarke's 3001. Bacterial or microscopic life, however, means caution for future manned missions: you don't want them bringing back Mars Fever.
posted by brownpau at 6:46 PM on February 21, 2005


At this point I am almost jaded about finding primitive life on Mars or anywhere else. It's almost a given that certain planets must harbor life. Earth is far from unique. Finding intelligent life, of course, would be thrilling - but unlikely. Even on Earth, with its millions of species, only one intelligent life-form managed to evolve after billions & billions of years.

And the dolphins are nothing to rave about.
posted by ember at 7:02 PM on February 21, 2005


I also can't wait to hear how the world's religions would take the news

Why do people think it would be problematic for any of the big, long-established religions? I'm not aware of any that have some firm dogma against it, but I'm hardly a student of religion.

Even Billy Graham, who might uncharitably be called a "fundy," has gone on record as seeing alien life as unproblematic, and Christian sci-fi has been a staple for a looooong time.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:06 PM on February 21, 2005


And the dolphins are nothing to rave about.

ember - The field mice, though...
posted by brownpau at 7:10 PM on February 21, 2005


I also can't wait to hear how the world's religions would take the news.

This little bit of news can be good for the world's religions if they take it that way, as I hope they will. Evolution of life through chemistry on multiple worlds, string theory, genetic engineering, life extension, and the like require more faith from believers. But maybe God has given us the capacity for more faith in the very benefits that understanding can give us.

Believers continue to believe through centuries of drastic change. Even though electricity and cars and immunizations and identity verification get us through the day, believers ask God to be a supreme Doctor in the hospital sickroom of a family member, a Teacher to the beloved child in college struggling with advanced mathematics, an Inspiration to the musician in the recording studio, and so on. It's easy for believers to embrace science if they give God his due - understanding that he can keep pace with any advance in technology and understanding that humans can come up with.
posted by By The Grace of God at 7:11 PM on February 21, 2005


Actually, Mathowie, many religious people (myself included) already postulate that there may be life on other worlds. It really isn't the revolutionary theological idea that atheists seem to think it would be.
posted by unreason at 7:12 PM on February 21, 2005


...how long until Halliburton comes up with a plan to re-warm the planet or otherwise dig up the sea so that it does sublimate, the water cycle resumes, and Mars returns to its life-giving state?

I say, in all seriousness, that we go for it. The colonization of Mars would open up the first truly new frontier of our lifetimes (with the possible exception of Antarctica). The opportunities for adventurous, entrepreneurial people on Mars would be almost endless.

Even if it meant that companies had access to large swaths of the planet, I think it would be worthwhile, because 1. It's a whole planet, there's a lot of room; 2. If manufacturing, mining and other extractive industries can be made economical on Mars, it could take a lot of pressure off of the Earth's own resources; and 3. The R&D needed to develop the technology to explore and settle the surface would have many positive, unforeseen applications that will benefit quality of life no matter what the ulimate success of Mars colonization.
posted by nyterrant at 8:25 PM on February 21, 2005


I also can't wait to hear how the world's religions would take the news.

The fundies will just change their story to fit in the new facts, same as they do every time something comes along that challenges irrational beliefs. God is flexible like that.
posted by AlexReynolds at 9:14 PM on February 21, 2005


I'm still worried about our probes and landers accidentally contaminating Mars with Terrestrial microbes.

probably already happened a long time ago...

hopefully by then we'll have perfected hydrogen-powered engines which need only water for fuel

already got em. current liquid-fuel rockets burn liquid hydrogen in liquid oxygen, the most powerful chemical reaction per unit of mass currently known (or likely to be known) the waste product being pure water. now then, hydrogen and oxygen can be very simply separated from water by an electric current. all you need to get home is a source of liquid water and a lot of solar panels that you bring with you...we could do it today with enough money...
i image what arthur c was talking about (i didn't read 3001) was some type of hydrogen fusion reactor...still dont have those...probably powering some type of ion engine (we DO have those...and they work GREAT)...the current bleeding edge is in fission powered space flight (again using ion engines) google around for 'project prometheus' and JIMO for more info (JIMO is short for Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter...a nasa planned mission where a fission based ion engine powers a ship into orbit around europa, then slowly out of orbit and onto other moons...super cool stuff) ...oh wait, found it...here
apparently it's moved from 'proposal' to 'planning' stage *rubs hands together, cackles gleefully*

europa has liquid water oceans, so might ganymede and callisto, and now (based on flyby pix taken just last week) it looks like enceladus, icy moon of saturn, might have one too...pack a snorkel!
posted by sexyrobot at 10:03 PM on February 21, 2005


The fundies will just change their story to fit in the new facts

The observation has been made by more than one above that, for some at least, no change of 'story' will be needed as the possibility has aleady been long since considered. The notion of life existing elsewhere is hardly new or unexamined. There was another thread a day or two back that addressed the same subject. There were references to C.S. Lewis etc covering exactly this.

My expectation: like almost everything else in the observable universe this would just push people further along in the belief or non-belief that they already have and I would think you'd see a lot of folks of various religions more concerned about protecting what's there than anything.
posted by scheptech at 10:10 PM on February 21, 2005


It's a whole planet, there's a lot of room

"640K should be enough for anyone."
posted by TheCowGod at 11:50 PM on February 21, 2005


Yay! Go Mars Express! As I think I've mentioned here before, I helped write the Payload Operations Software, though I've moved onto another project now.
posted by salmacis at 12:40 AM on February 22, 2005


I also can't wait to hear how the world's religions would take the news.
posted by mathowie


Wow. I guess the automatic religion-bashing around here comes from the top. What's the most important/interesting thing about the discovery of life on Mars? Why, that it will show those idiot religious people what idiots they are, of course!

Sigh.
posted by languagehat at 7:46 AM on February 22, 2005


Can we just take up a collection and SEND SOMEBODY, fer cryin' out loud?!
Hell, I volunteer!! I'm sick of letting little tonka-toy machines do all the work! We can find water in like, an hour with a drill and little elbow grease. Hell, bring a dowsing rod, even!
posted by black8 at 8:45 AM on February 22, 2005


I, for one, would be much more comfortable colonizing Mars if it is found to be utterly, verifiably barren. The risk inherent in interplanetary biotic cross-contamination is unacceptable, no matter how tiny the odds may be of a problem. We simply cannot risk bringing back any extraterrestrial microbes for fear of how they will behave in our ecosystem, or in us. The consequences of unfamiliar/non-native diseases and other species being introduced into new environments is rife in our own history, and that's inside the same planet!
I hope I don't sound too alarmist, but I feel there are huge hurdles to overcome before we establish any two-way traffic with Mars or any other potential "live" planet. I see that there are protocols in place, but I am still very apprehensive about the potential impact on our planet.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 10:18 AM on February 22, 2005


I also can't wait to hear how the world's religions would take the news.

The same way that they have always dealt with new scientific discoveries that make a nonsense of existing orthodoxies:

1. deny it
2. delay it
3. denigrate/persecute the discoverer
4. minimise its impact
5. assimilate it
6. claim that they discovered it first.

And in the case of evolution:

7. deny it again.
posted by bobbyelliott at 11:22 AM on February 22, 2005


It's quite amusing, how the atheists in this thread are so busy working on their "medieval religious ignoramus" straw men that they completely ignore the "but religious people don't deny extraterrestrial life" comments.

And what languagehat said.
posted by brownpau at 11:38 AM on February 22, 2005


they completely ignore the "but religious people don't deny extraterrestrial life" comments

We appear to be between stages 4 and 5.
posted by bobbyelliott at 11:50 AM on February 22, 2005


Yup, because every religious person follows your formula. I shouldn't have dared presume to wander outside of it.
posted by brownpau at 11:59 AM on February 22, 2005


But back on the topic, take a look at this science news followup article from ABC.net.au, and this post from Phil Plait, the "Bad Astronomer."

Again, I think life on Mars is very probable, but this is a case of an eager press jumping the gun on something a couple of scientists were just speculating on. We'll know, soon, I hope, but this isn't it yet.
posted by brownpau at 12:10 PM on February 22, 2005


The opportunities for adventurous, entrepreneurial people on Mars would be almost endless.

... and in two hundred years or so, it'll look like this. Let's hope the no oxygen thing is too big a hurdle for us to get over.

posted by ryanshepard at 12:23 PM on February 22, 2005


I also can't wait to hear how the world's religions would take the news.

While an atheist myself I come from an almost exclusively Catholic country and it always amazes me how people think that Evolution and Alien Life forms are not allowed in Christianity. They may not fit the fundamentalist strains of Christianity present in the US but for the 1 billion Roman Catholics world-wide, Evolution and ET pose no issues.

The Church has no position on ET, and the Pope accepts Evolution.
posted by daveirl at 4:12 PM on February 22, 2005


We simply cannot risk bringing back any extraterrestrial microbes for fear of how they will behave in our ecosystem, or in us.

No problem if we create them here using biotech though. What's the difference?

I have heard fundamentalists of various kinds denying at great length the possiblity that there could be life on other planets. I think He gave us dominion over this one, and we're not going to be let off until we've finished dominating it. Good lord! We can't even control the weather...
posted by sneebler at 7:54 PM on February 22, 2005



I have heard fundamentalists of various kinds denying at great length the possiblity that there could be life on other planets.


I love reading/listening to some of the wackier fundamentalists, but I've never heard anything like this. I assumed it was just an atheist urban legend. Got any links?
posted by straight at 4:07 PM on February 23, 2005


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