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Is there [potential for] Life on Mars?
August 2, 2008 3:25 AM   Subscribe

According to Aviation Today and Universe Week, the US President has been briefed on the discovery of "something more compelling [than the confirmation of water], completing another piece of the puzzle in the search for the correct conditions for life as we know it to survive on Mars". It's not life, or evidence of past life, but it's something. Via Jasohill.
posted by liquidindian (74 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Bets start here as to what it is. I'm guessing they've dug up a discarded picnic basket.
posted by liquidindian at 3:36 AM on August 2, 2008


"the US President has been briefed on the discovery of 'something more compelling [than the confirmation of water], "

WMDs? A race shaped like Al Gore's profile? Ballot boxes missing from Broward County's 2000 presidential election?

The US's lost national honor?
posted by orthogonality at 3:37 AM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


the US President has been briefed on the discovery of "something more compelling [than the confirmation of water],

Yes, and he's expected to hold a White House press conference on the matter very soon. Sources say the President will be indicating that this something "hates our freedoms".
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:39 AM on August 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


It's an old Mars Times op-ed, talking about how all this "global drying" and "atmosphere depletion" poppycock is just damned myth perpetrated by the hippies and enviro-nazis meant to hurt industry and curtail the Martian Way of Life™.
posted by moonbiter at 3:49 AM on August 2, 2008 [21 favorites]


I bet it's something along the lines of the soil being suitable for growing plants in.
posted by public at 3:55 AM on August 2, 2008


Probably amino acids or similar, as in the Miller-Urey experiment. On the one hand, it would be a huge step forward but on the other hand you almost can't avoid getting these semi-biological components on a wet world, especially if it's undergone bombardment by carbonaceous chondrites.
posted by DU at 3:59 AM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Probably amino acids or similar

Would this mean that Mars is similar of pre-life Earth but can go no further (excuse the directional thinking here, can't think how else to put it), or is like a slowed-down Earth, or what?
posted by liquidindian at 4:11 AM on August 2, 2008


I'd agree with DU's amino acid guess or even a strong finding of hydrocarbons. In the first case, it's possible for some of Mars' limited nitrogen to have bonded with other elements. Finding any intact acids in spite of the presence of known salt deposits would be a major find, though an amino acid isn't quite the same as a complex protein chain or an organism.

A discovery of hydrocarbons could hint at trapped gasses, or land saturated with complex minerals. Prior molten or volcanic activity would be likely, as well as raising speculation on finding amino structures. Either way, it would open the way for more exploratory funding.
posted by Smart Dalek at 4:27 AM on August 2, 2008


They are claiming that the discovery was made by the MECA wet chemistry lab. It doesn't seem obvious to me that detecting amino acids or hydrocarbons are things that this bit of equipment can do.
posted by public at 4:36 AM on August 2, 2008


Why the need to brief the President before telling the public?
posted by Termite at 4:39 AM on August 2, 2008


Gotta be hydrocarbons. It's the only finding from Mars that Bush could be interested in.
posted by felix betachat at 4:41 AM on August 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


Why the need to brief the President before telling the public?

I guess I'm just not that important :(
posted by public at 4:41 AM on August 2, 2008 [24 favorites]


Why the need to brief the President before telling the public?

Cause that's what they always do in the movies.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:41 AM on August 2, 2008 [4 favorites]


Why the need to brief the President before telling the public?

The banners don't make themselves.
posted by Poolio at 4:47 AM on August 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


Duh.
posted by chillmost at 4:48 AM on August 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


It's oil son. Black gold. Texas tea.
posted by netbros at 4:51 AM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


A familiar white powder?
posted by anthill at 4:54 AM on August 2, 2008


It's oil son. Black gold. Texas tea.

OH MY GOD THOMAS GOLD WAS RIGHT.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 5:01 AM on August 2, 2008


Breifing the president on anything scientific or generally more complicated than tying ones shoes seems like a waste of breath to me.

Bush: I see your mouth moving Mr. Scientist and I hear words coming out, but I just don't understand a one of 'em. What's it mean?

Scientist: *sigh* Oil, Mr. President. So much oil. And democracy. The soil can sustain democracy. We must invade as soon as possible.
posted by chillmost at 5:01 AM on August 2, 2008 [6 favorites]


Tomorrow's reddit top 5:

5. Sailor vs cavemen flashmob [video]
4. Dark Knight officially best-selling, freakiest show of all time
3. Lawman beating up wrong guy, WAKE UP SHEEPLE, WILL YOU EVER KNOW??
2. LIFE ON MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARS
1. No, THIS is life on Mars
posted by No-sword at 5:18 AM on August 2, 2008 [13 favorites]


Transformers!
posted by jozxyqk at 5:23 AM on August 2, 2008


If we build an oil pipeline from Mars, you can bet the neocons will manage to build it through Afghanistan, somehow.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:27 AM on August 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


If we build an oil pipeline from Mars, you can bet the neocons will manage to build it through Afghanistan, somehow.

Dude, you obviously have not been keeping up. Afghanistan was two wars ago. And this is a pipe of the future. It'll be going through Iran.
posted by orange swan at 5:35 AM on August 2, 2008 [4 favorites]


Ah. They've finally found those weapons of mass destruction we've been looking for.
posted by googly at 5:40 AM on August 2, 2008


Something is out there.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 5:52 AM on August 2, 2008


My money is on a two story, matte black cereal box.
...which is full of stars.
posted by SPUTNIK at 5:52 AM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


This thread has become pretty crappy.
posted by public at 6:12 AM on August 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


Without finding something pretty conclusive, like fossilized remains or bacteria, I can't imagine that this "announcement" will be anything other than an anticlimax. Like public said, the MECA Wet Chemistry Lab just isn't capable of detecting amino acids or hydrocarbons. A flake of non-PHONENIX-type machined metal, maybe? Calcium (shell or bone) fragment? MECA does have a very good microscope.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 6:39 AM on August 2, 2008


The Aviation article says that this is not to do with past life, it's to do with the capability of the soil to support life in the future. So I'm thinking it'll be something that seem rather anti-climactic but is important.
posted by athenian at 6:45 AM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


I was wondering the other day if, and obviously this isn't the case now, but what if there's nanoscale lifeforms. Would we be looking at a small enough resolution to detect it? Would we know it when we see it? Would it take time to process the structures to determine it's a lifelike compound (I'm assuming a nanoscale lifeform would basically be like bacteria/virii in it's mode of operation, or something even simpler).

But on hearing this news, I was thinking amino acids. I don't know enough about this mission, so I guess I'll take public's word re: MECA.
posted by symbioid at 6:50 AM on August 2, 2008


The Aviation article says that this is not to do with past life, it's to do with the capability of the soil to support life in the future. So I'm thinking it'll be something that seem rather anti-climactic but is important.

Perhaps a better post would be formed from that announcement. At this point, we have links containing speculation, at best.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:57 AM on August 2, 2008


They found a way to increase their funding. That's huge.
posted by Xoebe at 7:32 AM on August 2, 2008


I think this belongs in the Mars water post (which wasn't even 24 hrs old when this was posted), not in a new FPP.
posted by caddis at 7:32 AM on August 2, 2008


The Smirking Chimp's response to the briefing:

"Alright, you've covered your ass now."
posted by rdone at 7:38 AM on August 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


Hoffa
posted by Bixby23 at 8:00 AM on August 2, 2008


Well, at least now I feel better that if there is a real breakthrough finding, i.e. SETI signal from outside the solar system, that there will be enough excitement that the news will leak out.
posted by tinkertown at 8:04 AM on August 2, 2008


If it's aminos it would explain why Schwarzenegger went there.
posted by Tube at 8:04 AM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS EXCEPT EUROPA. ATTEMPT NO LANDINGS THERE.
posted by mazola at 8:09 AM on August 2, 2008 [4 favorites]


They discovered that Martian soil is made of fruitcake.
posted by localroger at 8:37 AM on August 2, 2008


Part of the statement was that water from Earth, was mixed with soil from Mars. They might have put Earth extremophilic bacteria in that Earth water to see how they get along. Maybe they put some of those Oxygen making cyanobacteria in that water to see if Oxygen would form.

I wouldn't put it past them to pollute Mars with Earth life forms, even before discovering if there is life on Mars.

I can see it now, "Life on Mars!" (we put it there.)
posted by Oyéah at 8:58 AM on August 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


So, if the announcement is, in fact, that Martian soil is capable of sustaining terrestrial plant growth, would that mean that perhaps the only ingredient needed to farm on Mars is enough heat to keep the plants and soil above freezing?

Does that mean that, say, colonizing Mars would be a whole lot easier than anyone could have imagined, because all we'll need to construct for food and oxygen production is a greenhouse over natural Martian soil?

On the other hand, since Mars has no magnetic field, you still have the problem of radiation at the surface. And ethical questions of introducing terrestrial life on Mars before we're certain that Martian life is non-existent (either because it's extinct or because it never existed in the first place).
posted by Chanther at 9:32 AM on August 2, 2008


I'm wondering if they're talking about methane. Not a definitive signifier of life as such but due to its volatility, it sure would be hard to find in the soil of mars unless something there was alive, at some point.

All the more reason to stop being such tightwads about the robotic exploration of the solar system. MSL will be on its way (hopefully) in about 14 months, and though it won't be anywhere near the same locale as Phoenix, it's got the goods for really looking for evidence of past life. And then there's ESA's ExoMars and the next big American rover after MSL.
posted by chimaera at 9:51 AM on August 2, 2008


I wouldn't put it past them to pollute Mars with Earth life forms

That's ridiculous. NASA has a Planetary Protection Office tasked with preventing exactly that.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:52 AM on August 2, 2008


The fact TEGA is starting to process some ice samples "had champagne corks popping" here

Always with the euphemisms.

I predict that they have discovered Little Green Money: justification for the manned Mars landing's budget.
posted by pracowity at 9:54 AM on August 2, 2008


Yeah, but planetary protection really is more of an art than a science. How do you kill every microbe on your flight system without killing any of its components?

It's not possible. The standards for planetary protection are the best we can reasonably do, but it doesn't get all of the microbes.
posted by chimaera at 9:57 AM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


That's ridiculous. NASA has a Planetary Protection Office tasked with preventing exactly that.

There are also offices to protect the environment on Earth. That's why you never see any pollution here and why all species are so strongly protected.
posted by pracowity at 9:57 AM on August 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


My bet is that it's a godawful small affair.
posted by invitapriore at 10:27 AM on August 2, 2008 [6 favorites]


It's bacon.
posted by jet_silver at 10:36 AM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


@jet_silver: Martian dogs don't know it's not bacon....
posted by Rogalian at 10:53 AM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Methane and water have been detected on Mars more times than Al Qaeda's #2 has been found in Iraq.

My bet is on methane; detections have been claimed before, but they were questionable.
posted by lukemeister at 11:21 AM on August 2, 2008


metafilter: This thread has become pretty crappy.
posted by ornate insect at 11:23 AM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


liquidindian: I'm guessing they've dug up a discarded picnic Stalker">basket.

Sheez, get with the program, people. You left him hanging there for almost 8 hours without the obvious comeback.
posted by lodurr at 11:36 AM on August 2, 2008


invitapriore wins for best pop culture reference.

I'm pretty sure this is going to be something having to do with the Earth water/Mars soil mixture, and that the potential to sustain plant life is going to end up being a much more realistic thing.

Personally, I think this would be huge news, and hope (wish, dream) that it starts a process of developing technologies that would create Martian farming.

I'm sick of this planet... well... I'm sick of the people on it. I'd be happy if either I could leave or many of the other people in the world would. :)
posted by vertigo25 at 12:01 PM on August 2, 2008


Guys, come on, we've been fooled before.
It's just a f*cking Segway.
posted by 235w103 at 12:09 PM on August 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


Just you wait - it'll turn out to be balls. From close up they always look like landscape.
posted by awenner at 12:38 PM on August 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


It's only a model.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:53 PM on August 2, 2008


> Just you wait - it'll turn out to be balls.

Don't taunt them. If you know what's good for you.
posted by jfuller at 1:14 PM on August 2, 2008


Well, as leaks go, this one would be more exciting if it were a little more leaky. It's just another big tease right now -

And for the record, I think we should resist the urge to terraform Mars, at least until we feel we know a little more about it.
posted by newdaddy at 1:53 PM on August 2, 2008


That's ridiculous. NASA has a Planetary Protection Office tasked with preventing exactly that.

There are also offices to protect the environment on Earth. That's why you never see any pollution here and why all species are so strongly protected.


But this is The Prime Directive.
posted by Bonzai at 2:04 PM on August 2, 2008


Why the need to brief the President before telling the public?

It takes a long time to explain things to him, maybe.
posted by WPW at 2:12 PM on August 2, 2008


You left him hanging there for almost 8 hours

It's okay, I used the to bask in the glory of creating a crappy thread.
posted by liquidindian at 2:29 PM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


I hope to heck Obama plans to bring Bush's wasteful manned space plans to a screeching halt, and ramp up the robotics. You could deploy a dozen of these things for what it's going to cost to send one of those golf-club swinging space-suited chowder heads to Mars.
posted by Faze at 3:36 PM on August 2, 2008


The soil is suitable for planting.
OR
There's more oxygen in the atmosphere than previously thought.

/I got nuthin'
posted by zardoz at 6:13 PM on August 2, 2008


Please, for the love all that is holy, no more "oil on Mars" jokes.

Other boards, too, please. I can't take it anymore. Bush likes oil, I get it.

Oh, and Obama don't need robots to explore planets. Walking on water is for pussies - Obama walks on vacuum.
posted by codswallop at 7:34 PM on August 2, 2008


I'll be disappointed if the statement is just "The soil is suitable for planting." or somesuch, since Phoenix already twittered that in June.
posted by paisley at 8:14 PM on August 2, 2008


The Lunar government has learned that Marvin Martian recently sought significant quantities of hydrogen from Jupiter.
posted by eritain at 9:12 PM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Damn. Phoenix just twittered:

Reports claiming there was a White House briefing are also untrue and incorrect. 40 minutes ago from web
Heard about the recent news reports implying I may have found Martian life. Those reports are incorrect. about 1 hour ago from web
posted by The White Hat at 10:54 PM on August 2, 2008


Yeah, but what does the Phoenix know, it's on mars!
posted by sebas at 11:25 PM on August 2, 2008


It discovered the crumbled ruins of a McDonald's franchise, but clearly far older than Earth civilization. Surely you all realize, the discovery of intelligent life on another planet is considered to be extremely destabilizing to geopolitics? (I can't explain that belief, I never understood it myself).

This discovery makes it clear, not only is there intelligent life other than on Earth, but that they aren't necessarily any more inteligent than we are.
posted by Goofyy at 8:28 AM on August 3, 2008


Something wonderful.
posted by hal9k at 4:47 PM on August 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


My keys?
posted by trondant at 9:07 AM on August 4, 2008


Wired pointed to a very informed blog here.

Looks like it may be, as mentioned earlier, that the soil may be capable of supporting life. Also mentioned is the Planetary Protection Protocols (PPP). I had never heard of that before. Sounds like the Prime Directive. Looks like they aren't all that great because it sounds like Earth contamination could still get through.

In my opinion, in the odd chance that life is so rare that we are all there is in the universe, we ought to be doing everything we can to spread it everywhere.

Bush has a science advisor? Does he work for Sector Seven?
posted by eye of newt at 11:45 AM on August 4, 2008


Unmanned Spaceflight is the best. However, the latest results suggest that the Martian soil is less hospitable to life than the early results suggested. Alternatively, the perchlorate could be from the Martian rocket or fireworks industries.
posted by lukemeister at 7:35 PM on August 4, 2008


So it turned out to be perchlorate. That bodes very poor for extant life, but quite good for visiting astronauts, as the oxygen is easy to coax out of many perchlorates. For example, chemical oxygen generators (oxygen "candles" like those used on the ISS and occasionally in submarines and mines) can use IIRC both sodium and lithium perchlorates.
posted by chimaera at 8:41 PM on August 5, 2008


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