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Has life on Mars been confirmed?
January 15, 2009 1:41 AM   Subscribe

A British tabloid claims that NASA will today announce the probable presence of life on Mars. Planetary and atmospheric scientists from NASA's Mars program will address a press conference at 2PM EST, apparently about concentrated methane plumes that bloom and dissipate [pdf]. There was a false alarm about a similar briefing a few months ago; is this the real deal?
posted by Joe in Australia (129 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
MiBs will surely suppress this, just as they when the Sun reported on the finding of that Venusian Elvis statue and Princess Di's face in the Eagle nebula.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 1:48 AM on January 15, 2009


Their first reader comment is "Posted by: Brightmeadows: Maybe the gas came from Uranus."

Given that the Sun has such an utterly predictable level of audience, part of me would be surprised if News International chose to let the Sun take an exclusive story like this rather than...you know...an actual serious paper. But I guess there is only a while to wait and see. They have Colin Pillinger and Nick Pope on the record, so I am at hopeful that it is at least a good rumour and isn't completely baseless (unlike, for example, their dangerously idiotic MMR vaccine causes autism editorial line). You'd just expect it to run across Sky and possibly Fox News if it was impeccably sourced, given that it's a story that might be as big as the inauguration.

Here's hoping though.
posted by jaduncan at 1:58 AM on January 15, 2009


If the "Sun Spaceman" says it is so...
posted by birdherder at 2:00 AM on January 15, 2009


"Britain’s top space expert Nick Pope last night hailed the new evidence of life as “the most important discovery of all time”."

Top space expert??
posted by edd at 2:04 AM on January 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Top space expert??

I was surprised by that too; maybe Russell T Davies was busy.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:12 AM on January 15, 2009 [10 favorites]


This is certainly momentous. It might even push Celebrity Big Brother off the front page.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:17 AM on January 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Sun? Come on.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:17 AM on January 15, 2009


Also I love the logic that because noone has seen volcanism on Mars in the present day it must be due to life. Because life has been seen before on Mars, right?
posted by edd at 2:18 AM on January 15, 2009


Emitting methane and smashing wind turbines: clearly the aliens want things warmer...
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:28 AM on January 15, 2009


"Joe in Australia claims intelligent life found in Sun"
posted by davemee at 2:29 AM on January 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


You won't be laughing when the Martian arachnopods catch onto us, descend on our planet, and tear you all to ribbons. Me? I've been sending them signals with this little rig I made out of a Speak-N-Spell, an umbrella, and some aluminum foil. So long, suckers!
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:41 AM on January 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


There is undoubtedly life, or there was, briefly--brought on the various landers from right here. Whether there is other life, well, here's hoping.
posted by maxwelton at 2:48 AM on January 15, 2009


For all you people scoffing at the source, just reconsider that name. The Sun, people. What paper could possibly have a better claim to knowledge about the solar system? Now let's all throng together and panic.
posted by No-sword at 3:12 AM on January 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Personally, I welcome my new martian overlords.
posted by nax at 3:13 AM on January 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Someone had to say it.
posted by nax at 3:13 AM on January 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


For Americans wondering about this newspaper and it's credentials, think National Enquirer mixed the New York Post with healthy dollops of utter contempt for their audience and tits every day on page 3.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:24 AM on January 15, 2009 [7 favorites]


...here's hoping.

Why would anyone "hope" there's life on Mars? What the hell difference would it make? I personally hope that my family and friends don't lose their jobs in the depression. I hope I don't slip on the ice this morning and crack my head. I hope my new project is a big success. But what possible human hope could reside in the discovery of life on Mars?
posted by Faze at 3:24 AM on January 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


But what possible human hope could reside in the discovery of life on Mars?

Pretty much every useful bit of scientific knowledge goes through an initial phase of having no practical use whatsoever to the average person. I doubt your project (or even you) would exist without some of those things. Who knows - maybe some organism living on Mars will ultimately lead to a cure for a major disease, or will contribute to solving the looming energy crisis.

Your statement shows a real lack of understanding of how science works.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:38 AM on January 15, 2009 [26 favorites]


Why would anyone "hope" there's life on Mars? What the hell difference would it make?

We can sell them stuff! Mortgages and that! Good bye recession! Hello continuous growth!
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:48 AM on January 15, 2009 [9 favorites]


Faze needs a hug--verily, I bet he hopes for one.

I hope there's life up there because it would be a tremendous scientific discovery, plus it has some fairly serious theological implications which would be amusing to see hashed out.
posted by maxwelton at 3:55 AM on January 15, 2009


But what possible human hope could reside in the discovery of life on Mars?
posted by Faze at 3:24 AM on January 15


I have never pitied you more than I do now, Faze.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 3:56 AM on January 15, 2009 [16 favorites]


Why would anyone "hope" there's life on Mars? What the hell difference would it make? I personally hope that my family and friends don't lose their jobs in the depression. I hope I don't slip on the ice this morning and crack my head. I hope my new project is a big success. But what possible human hope could reside in the discovery of life on Mars?

I would hope primarily due to the fact that it would show life is not unique to Earth, and thus alien life in general would seem a lot more likely. 2 of a sample size of 2 planets having life would indicate that. The deeper cause is that the possibility of meeting another intelligent species with an utterly alien culture and history of science is one of the most exciting things that could be imagined.
posted by jaduncan at 4:03 AM on January 15, 2009


Plus it has some fairly serious theological implications which would be amusing to see hashed out.

Bah. The Bible never even mentions the possibility of other worlds in the first place. Whether they have life on them or not is icing on a cake never served, anyway.

(See also: who named all the fish?)
posted by rokusan at 4:07 AM on January 15, 2009


The existence of life on Mars will mean nothing to the public until there is a death on Mars; a grizzly mysterious death that will occupy 24-hour news cycles and TV docudramas for at least a decade.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:15 AM on January 15, 2009 [5 favorites]


Tits every day on page 3? What's a subscription cost? ;)
posted by jamstigator at 4:15 AM on January 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Scientists, correct my thinking here, but it seems to me that the sum total of anything and everything we can learn about Mars and its potential to harbor life comes from imperfect observation. We can point the Hubble at it, take pictures from the satellites, and get the video and such from the rovers, but short of a nice shot of a Martian tree or a Martian fish or the Little Green Men dancing a hula in front of the camera, the scientific community will never agree that life on Mars exists until human beings go there, whip out the bunsen burners in person and confirm it yes or no. (OR, we somehow manage to scoop up some soil and rocket it back to Earth). There's just too many "ifs" and "maybes" from the robots we're relying on.
posted by zardoz at 4:15 AM on January 15, 2009


I just read that the Brangelina marriage is on the rocks!
posted by gman at 4:22 AM on January 15, 2009


Given that the Sun has such an utterly predictable level of audience, part of me would be surprised if News International chose to let the Sun take an exclusive story like this rather than...you know...an actual serious paper.

The Sun is a serious paper.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 4:23 AM on January 15, 2009


It's true that the robots do kinda suck, but most science on earth is based on imperfect observation, as well.

And, here on earth, we can't even really decide whether viruses and prions are "life" or not. How the hell do we define life?
posted by Jimbob at 4:28 AM on January 15, 2009


The Sun is a star, not a planet.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:29 AM on January 15, 2009



Tits every day on page 3? What's a subscription cost? ;)

No need dude, Page 3 has its own website.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:43 AM on January 15, 2009


I bet if we wait until 2, we'll find out!
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 4:44 AM on January 15, 2009


I've gotten the impression that Nasa always produces this kind of report whenever there's danger that its funding may be cut. Am I being cynical here?
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 4:54 AM on January 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: think National Enquirer mixed the New York Post with healthy dollops of utter contempt for their audience and tits every day
posted by DU at 4:54 AM on January 15, 2009


These concentrated methane plumes will turn out to be space farts, of course. And you don't get giant space farts without giant assholes. Which is where the Sun (not Sol) comes in.
posted by pracowity at 5:01 AM on January 15, 2009


This will be just another fakeout from Mars.

Thus far, Mars has shown us two things: 1) complex geological processes can result in "evidence" that sure makes it look as if Martians of varying potential intellect are hanging about; 2) that human beings really, really want there to be life on Mars.

And, unless we discover cute, big-eyed furry Martian-soil-dwelling critters, thus kicking off some kind of marketing trend similar to Beanie Babies, nothing short of a colony of intelligent Martians is going to do to much in the way of scientific applicability to any one of our numerous problems.

Even if this putative Martian life process urinated gasoline, it still wouldn't be worth the cost of bringing said gasoline back.

And forget transplantation: we won't be bringing any odd little organisms back for cultivation. If you thought the furor over the LHC was loud, simply imagine that the idea of bringing back any "Martian disease" (and that's what they'll call it) will bring every lunatic scampering out of the woodwork to stop it. Whatever it is, would almost certainly not be compatible with Earth life. If it were, so much the worse, as competitive Earth life, honed by billions of years of having to fight off other "stupendous badasses," could simply dispatch any Martian life just waving a pseudopod at it, unless Earth life thought it would be funny to make the tobacco mosaic virus do it as some kind of freshman initiation rite.

Think about it: we can't even make proper use of varying things colonizing hot springs right here in our national parks. Our hopes for random biological cures for diseases would pay off, dollar for dollar, much higher in the Amazon, but of course we're too busy turning that into cheap furniture. We've got Archaebacteria in all kinds of nifty places right at home, completely unused. No, Mars is not a good bet for that.

We'd get a nice, warm feeling about it ("Life on Mars!"), the religious debates begin, and then we spend another couple of centuries trying to figure out if our planet contaminated Mars or the other way around. Good for some life sciences majors, good for some grants, a spurt of bad sci-fi films, and that's it.

Life on Mars? We have plenty of life here, and we haven't got a clue how to benefit from it aside from eating it and making clothes out of it, for the most part.
posted by adipocere at 5:08 AM on January 15, 2009 [13 favorites]


The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one, they said. But still they come.
posted by the_very_hungry_caterpillar at 5:12 AM on January 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


...nothing short of a colony of intelligent Martians is going to do to much in the way of scientific applicability to any one of our numerous problems.

Holy narrow viewpoint. IMMEDIATE APPLICATIONS (of the kind I personally like) OR IT'S CRAAAAAAP!
posted by DU at 5:15 AM on January 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Sun lies.
posted by idiomatika at 5:17 AM on January 15, 2009


Wow, lot of science-hate going on in here. Didn't we all vote for Barack Obama? He likes science you dolts, so should you.

If life were discovered on Mars a major significance of it would be to would shed light on how life actually started on Earth. No, not evolution, but abiogenesis. Even old Darwin himself in his second edition of Origin thought God must've had something to do with getting the whole thing started. Currently, there are multiple competing scientific theories, none with successful experimental support.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 5:26 AM on January 15, 2009


it has some fairly serious theological implications which would be amusing to see hashed out

I'm sure a Christian fundamentalist - say... Sarah Palin ! - would have as little difficulty dealing with incontrovertible evidence of life on Mars as they do dealing with incontrovertible evidence of evolution...

[inserts fingers in ears]

"LA LA LA I can't hear you!"
posted by Joe Beese at 5:29 AM on January 15, 2009


> It's true that the robots do kinda suck, but most science on earth
> is based on imperfect observation, as well.

Absolutely everything we know about the empirical universe--the so-called objective world "out there," noting that your own body interoception counts as "out there"--is based on imperfect observation and (possibly mistaken) inference.
posted by jfuller at 5:31 AM on January 15, 2009


I hope my new project is a big success. But what possible human hope could reside in the discovery of life on Mars?

It ends the horrible four billion year reign of the kind of life that George Bush is.

But seriously, WTF is with that attitude? In a culture dominated by reality television, celebrity gossip, and political theater, there are actually people who whine about the utility of extraterrestrial life? How eff'ing dense do you have to be to not find the prospect of a universe filled with living things that aren't us incredibly exciting?

"If it's not my navel, I'm not interested!"
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 5:34 AM on January 15, 2009 [5 favorites]


Is it just me, or is there a trend towards preemptive FPPs? Bad science journalism is bad enough, but do we have to give them pageviews based on almost pure speculation?

It's MetaFilter, not a newspaper. Let's wait til something happens to post about it, mmkay?
posted by Eideteker at 5:47 AM on January 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


I for one like the idea. However I feel that we should leave anything from Mars... on Mars. Not that we could get it back here to begin with, but Martian plague does not sound cool at all! Also before anyone gets any ideas about colonizing Mars, I think we should tackle the Arctic Circle first. Probably about the same temp and about the same about of Star Bucks and Hard Rock Cafes. I don't know though, I think Mars might have more. The Arctic Circle is kind of lame.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 5:49 AM on January 15, 2009


life on Mars will mean nothing to the public until there is a death on Mars; a grizzly mysterious death that will occupy 24-hour news cycles

Good plan, but how are we gonna get the blond white woman there first?
posted by rokusan at 5:51 AM on January 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one, they said. But still they come.

Best. Concept Album. Ever. Lately, someone's produced a set of pretty brilliant amateur videos to accompany those songs. Not as awesome as life on Mars, but so much better than Tom Cruise vs. the Martians.
posted by octobersurprise at 5:59 AM on January 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Jim Hacker: Don't tell me about the press. I know exactly who reads the papers: The Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country; The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country; The Times is read by people who actually do run the country; The Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country; The Financial Times is read by people who own the country; The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country; And The Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.

Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister, what about the people who read The Sun?

Bernard Woolley: Sun readers don't care who runs the country, as long as she's got big tits.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:01 AM on January 15, 2009 [27 favorites]


Scientists, correct my thinking here, but it seems to me that the sum total of anything and everything we can learn about Mars and its potential to harbor life comes from imperfect observation.

You can say the same thing about evidence of life on earth. Descarte proved I exist. It's you I'm not so sure about.

In all seriousness, the real issue (if they ever say, "yes, there is life on Mars") is going to be the debate on whether it's really Martian life, or if it's something Terrestrial that we just contaminated Mars with via one of our probes.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:02 AM on January 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


No.
posted by flotson at 6:03 AM on January 15, 2009


Martians' first message: "
We need a bailout."
posted by Ironmouth at 6:08 AM on January 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


They need to branch off with a new magazine, call it, simply, Page 3, and fill it with all those nice tits. I bet it'd get more subscribers in that form too. Although, with the internet, ToD (tits on demand) is already here I guess.

Okay, back to the alien life discussion, sorry for interrupting with tit-talk. ;)
posted by jamstigator at 6:17 AM on January 15, 2009


But what possible human hope could reside in the discovery of life on Mars?

Discovering life on another planet would tilt the odds towards there being life everywhere. Without it, as far as we know, life on earth might just be a unique accident. We might be alone out here.

But if we could prove that life independently developed on Mars just like on Earth, then that would be fairly strong evidence that life will exist everywhere it can exist -- if it's a rare accident then the odds against it occurring on two adjacent planets would be pretty poor. (Or alternatively if we proved that it didn't develop independently on mars, but was spread here from earth, or vice-versa, that would give us even more insight into our own origins.)

On a more practical level, the chance to for the first time study a completely different form of life would give us all kinds of clues about how it works: so far we've got a sample size of 1, basically. If it's DNA based then that, again, implies that all life is DNA (or else that martian and human life shares the same origin.) If it's not DNA-based then that's huge, it might mean life can emerge from any system with sufficient complexity. We'd be able to compare the two systems to find out what they have in common, and learn from that the core of what life actually is. Either way it would help us understand who we are. How we work. Why we exist.

If your worldview really is so small that you can't see why that's worth hoping for, then yeah. That's pretty fucking sad.


All that said, this report is almost certainly bunk. Byline the "Sun Spaceman"? Puhleeze.
posted by ook at 6:18 AM on January 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Byline the "Sun Spaceman"?

It's pronounced Spa-chem-in.
posted by bondcliff at 6:25 AM on January 15, 2009 [8 favorites]


Why would anyone "hope" there's life on Mars?

David Bowie keeps asking. I just want to give him a solid answer.
posted by Remy at 6:31 AM on January 15, 2009


Tits every day on page 3? What's a subscription cost? ;)

It looks like a year is 49 pounds, all the tits you can oggle.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:31 AM on January 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


life on Mars will mean nothing to the public until there is a death on Mars; a grizzly mysterious death that will occupy 24-hour news cycles

To be fair, a bear attack on another planet would be more newsworthy than speculation on who is about to be voted off Dancing With The STARS!!! or what is on the Obama kids' school lunch menu.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:46 AM on January 15, 2009


I hope my new project is a big success. But what possible human hope could reside in the discovery of life on Mars?


It gives us hope that because the appreciation for science and the wonders of nature is at such an abysmal level that it can only go up from here.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:48 AM on January 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


utter contempt for their audience and tits every day on page 3

I disagree - I've never seen the Sun display anything but the greatest reverence for tits.
posted by kcds at 6:51 AM on January 15, 2009


Here's some classic Sun hypocrisy NSFW
posted by quarsan at 6:52 AM on January 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


David Bowie keeps asking.

Just think what it will do for his back catalogue. In an uncertain market - Bowie Bonds are a firm "buy".
posted by rhymer at 6:53 AM on January 15, 2009


I assure you, I can ogle well more than 49 pounds of tits in a day, let alone a year.
posted by Eideteker at 6:59 AM on January 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can ogle enormous quantities of tits, you manly chicken.
posted by Mister_A at 6:59 AM on January 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


How ya doin' Eideteker?
posted by Mister_A at 7:00 AM on January 15, 2009


Why would anyone "hope" there's life on Mars? What the hell difference would it make? I personally hope that my family and friends don't lose their jobs in the depression. I hope I don't slip on the ice this morning and crack my head. I hope my new project is a big success. But what possible human hope could reside in the discovery of life on Mars?

Taken literally (how I tend to take things), this is a fascinating question -- naive on the surface but profound once you consider it. Let me state for the record that whether-or-not-there's-life-on-mars matters deeply to me. But I don't think most of the people responding to faze explain why it matters. At least, they haven't explained why it matters to me. To be honest, the only truthful explanation I can give is that it matters because it matters.

Yes, "pure" science often leads to practical applications. But be honest: if I could prove to you that this will never lead to a cure for cancer, wouldn't you -- most of you -- still be fascinated by it? I would. If you could prove to me that finding life on Mars would never even help us answer the question of whether or not there's life on planets besides Earth and Mars, I'd be saddened by still fascinated.

My fascination is more "poetic" than practical. I am dying to know whether there's life on Mars for the same reason that people want to know who is going to win the World Series; for the same reason I want to know how a good story ends; for the same reason I love my wife... That's to say "for no good reason." Just because. Or for pure sensation and intellectual curiosity. On one level, it's deeply unimportant. My love for my wife won't cure cancer. On another level, what could be more important?

You could argue (assuming we all value the process of living), that they only important things are eating, sex and fighting off disease. But does that really match most of our inner lives? Sorry, I know it's "trivial," but I really do care how "Battlestar Galactica" is going to end. I'd be lying if I said I didn't. Yes, there are many people on Earth who are so impoverished or persecuted that all their thoughts must necessarily be about basic survival. Those people aren't happy. In the best of all possible worlds, no one would live like that. In the best of all possible worlds, everyone would have mental space to care profoundly about the "trivial."

And what "trivial" things matter varies so much from person to person. I'm not into sports, so I'm as baffled (and frankly irritated) by people's passion over football as faze is over the "trivial" matter of life on Mars. But I'm betting, assuming faze is human, that there are some "trivial" things that matter to him. His particular trivialities just don't seem trivial to him. They seem deeply important.

Ultimately, I think the only workable definition of what's important is "the stuff that seems important." Of course, that's personal and subjective. But what could possibly be important other than the personal and subjective?
posted by grumblebee at 7:14 AM on January 15, 2009 [8 favorites]


Q: Is there life elsewhere in the universe?
A: Yes, almost certainly. We know life exists (I have personally seen some!) and the universe is absolutely fucking huge. There's pretty much zero chance it only exists on this one tiny planet.

Q: Is there life on Mars?
A: Doubt it. One of the things we know about life is that it expands to fill all possible niches and exploit all available resources. There is no environment on Earth harsh enough that it doesn't support some life. Imagine sending a probe to Earth to search for life. You could sample one cubic centimeter of air from anywhere and there would almost certainly be life in it. If there was any life on Mars, we would have found it right away, because it would be all over the place.

Q: Will we ever meet any non-terrestrial life form, of any kind?
A: Probably not. The universe is way too big. Barring the discovery of a practical way to circumvent relativity, everything is simply too far away to get to, or send back any usable information from.
posted by rusty at 7:16 AM on January 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


Having said all that, I still get where faze is coming from. To me, one of the paradoxes of human life is that I flip and flop back and forth between these two feelings:

Shakespeare wrote "King Lear," but I still have to take out the damn garbage.

I have to take out the damn garbage, but Shakespeare wrote "King Lear."
posted by grumblebee at 7:18 AM on January 15, 2009 [5 favorites]


Absolutely everything we know about the empirical universe--the so-called objective world "out there," noting that your own body interoception counts as "out there"--is based on imperfect observation and (possibly mistaken) inference.

Look out! The rationalist comments are coming from INSIDE THE THREAD!!

Stll. The Sun? I'm thinking not, as the day wears on.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:23 AM on January 15, 2009


(Takes MeFi tinfoil hat out of nearby drawer...)

I love British tabs.
posted by VicNebulous at 7:35 AM on January 15, 2009


Gene Hunt.
That is all.
posted by juiceCake at 7:36 AM on January 15, 2009


Q: Is there life on Mars?
A: Doubt it. One of the things we know about life is that it expands to fill all possible niches and exploit all available resources. There is no environment on Earth harsh enough that it doesn't support some life. Imagine sending a probe to Earth to search for life. You could sample one cubic centimeter of air from anywhere and there would almost certainly be life in it. If there was any life on Mars, we would have found it right away, because it would be all over the place.


Not if after life originally developed on Mars a large-scale catastrophe in the planet's relatively recent past left much of the environment inhospitable to those lifeforms. In that scenario, you'd expect to see only some of the hardier lifeforms (microorganisms, extremophiles) clinging to survival in relatively limited ecological niches.

There is evidence of a massive impact crater on Mars.

Also:

it expands to fill all possible niches and exploit all available resources

Why is it necessarily the case that this leads to life in abundance? It could be that there aren't many possible niches to fill on a particular planet, nor plentiful resources of a kind compatible with the formation and continuation of life.

On the other hand, what if there is evidence of life all over the place, but we don't recognize it, because its not life in any form we're familiar with. For example, all that iron oxide in the soil. On earth, there are bacteria that produce iron oxide as a biological waste product. Maybe just under its outer layer of soil, Mars is teeming with various forms of bacterial life, an accommodation to the harsh conditions on the surface.

But I'm just speculating, of course.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:39 AM on January 15, 2009


Everybody knows methane comes from Uranus.
posted by jonp72 at 7:43 AM on January 15, 2009


I find, in my limited experience, that those people most assured of life existing on other planets and most hopeful of finding it in our lifetime are also the greatest SciFi fans. I suspect Faze is, like me, not that interested in that genre.
If we find life, or it finds us, it will definitely be interesting. But I don't expect to ever see it, and don't support spending too much public money searching for it.
posted by rocket88 at 7:52 AM on January 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


saulgoodman: True, and those are some of the scenarios that lead me to say "I doubt it" rather than "no." What bothers me about them is they seem so specific. Like, the massive likelihood is that Mars has had plenty of time to evolve life and has failed to do so, for various reasons. But we have this couple of possible outlier scenarios where life is there but there's not much of it and it's kind of odd and hard to find. I'm just rolling with the probabilities to say if it were there it would most likely be obvious, and it isn't, so it's probably not there.

There is certainly a chance. I personally hope we do find some life there. I'm just not super-optimistic about the likelihood of it.
posted by rusty at 7:52 AM on January 15, 2009


'I really do care how "Battlestar Galactica" is going to end.'

I eagerly look forward to heading to wikipedia once it's over to find out what happened. Thus allowing me to skip all the soap opera relationshippy aspects that I could care less about. And, thanks to the Internet, I'll know the second the bombshell drops because OMG BLOGOSPHERE.

PS my guess is the blahgosphere turns out to be what killed earth. Everyone went online to blag about the BG finale at the same time and it killed the internet, sending mankind into a new dark age.
posted by Eideteker at 7:53 AM on January 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well if there is life on mars we need to get up there post haste and kick the shit out of it or get it on a tv rehab show right away.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:13 AM on January 15, 2009


I have to take out the damn garbage, but Shakespeare wrote "King Lear."

Well, I imagine Shakespeare had to empty the garbage, too, occasionally.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:16 AM on January 15, 2009


Life on Mars could be good, intelligent life on Mars might be even better. Because we could, as a world with all races and religions involved, finally come together and get behind a singular idea: those alien fuckers need to die! Now! Quick, before they get us!

If I was an eccentric billionaire, I would totally fake evidence of hostile alien life for just this purpose.
posted by quin at 8:21 AM on January 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


complex geological processes can result in "evidence" that sure makes it look as if Martians of varying potential intellect are hanging about

"Various potential intellect"? Wow. I never thought I'd see such brazen racism on metafilter, adipocere. Look, I think we're all familiar with how your Green brethren feel about the White Martians -- they're "stupid", they're "warlike", they have "no intellectual curiosity." But do you actually know any White Martians? Or do you just base these opinions on what you see on TV and in the papers?

The truth is, White Martians are just as intelligent as the Green ones. Yes, the culture is such that traditionally, they've been more focused on practical matters of defense and security, but that certainly doesn't make them intellectually inferior. I think you owe us an apology, adipocere... or should I say... "Mister J'onzz"?
posted by Greg Nog at 8:23 AM on January 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


'I really do care how "Battlestar Galactica" is going to end.'


I eagerly look forward to heading to wikipedia once it's over to find out what happened. Thus allowing me to skip all the soap opera relationshippy aspects that I could care less about. And, thanks to the Internet, I'll know the second the bombshell drops because OMG BLOGOSPHERE.


Eideteker, your attitude is totally baffling to me. And I don't mean any disrespect by saying that. I know many people who share your attitude (not necessarily about that particular show -- we could be talking about any story), but I'm constituted in such a way that I can't connect with it at all.

I can't think of a story that I care about enough to want to know the basic plot details but not enough to want to know the more specific story-element/character details. For instance, I'm not a fan of "Star Wars." I saw the first couple of movies, got bored, and never saw the rest. So I don't really care how it ends. On the other hand, I'm really into "Big Love" on HBO. It would not satisfy me to just know the basic outline of what happens. I want every detail.

I am not claiming superiority, just confusion. I know many people who, like you, say, "I don't care about all the relationship stuff. I just want to know what happens in the end." I don't get it. In your shoes, given that I'd dislike what makes up a major portion of the show, I'd just not care about the show at all.
posted by grumblebee at 8:29 AM on January 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


We must send Joe the Plumber to Mars to investigate and report on this startling new development.
posted by EarBucket at 8:36 AM on January 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Why would anyone "hope" there's life on Mars? What the hell difference would it make? I personally hope that my family and friends don't lose their jobs in the depression.

Agreed, I'm sick of these Martians coming down, stealin' our jobs, mixin' with our young people - RedBacks Back To RedBackistan! RedBacks Back To RedBackistan!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:47 AM on January 15, 2009


Joe the Plumber could be the next "Where the hell is Matt?" except instead of dancing, he could antagonise locals and complain about bias in every country on earth.
posted by minifigs at 8:48 AM on January 15, 2009


Heh. Nick Pope is a guy who really knows how to milk a kooky sounding civil service job.
posted by Artw at 8:55 AM on January 15, 2009


Why would anyone "hope" there's life on Mars? What the hell difference would it make?


This is the saddest comment I've ever read on metafilter. And I read all the trainwreck flameouts.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:06 AM on January 15, 2009 [7 favorites]


Yow know, this really is a god awful small affair.
posted by The Whelk at 9:07 AM on January 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Who knows - maybe some organism living on Mars will ultimately lead to a cure for a major disease, or will contribute to solving the looming energy crisis.

Or, it could kill us all--or taste like chicken. Who knows?
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 9:16 AM on January 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Lenin's on sale again!

Sold, actually.
posted by Jofus at 9:16 AM on January 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Sun "announced" this in 1835. See this.
posted by MarshallPoe at 9:19 AM on January 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


There is certainly a chance. I personally hope we do find some life there. I'm just not super-optimistic about the likelihood of it.

Well, in all un-seriousness, I am super-optimistic about the likelihood of it because I've been convinced for years now that conditions on Mars make the red planet perfectly suited for a thriving ecology of highly-evolved, subsurface dwelling microorganisms that make their way to earth from time to time, where they attempt to make their presence known to us by manifesting themselves as stubbornly persistent cold sores.

Obviously, the methane plumes are evidence of a microscopic space program.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:30 AM on January 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Methane plumes are going to be pretty exciting to followers of James Lovelocks Gaia hypthesis - methane and ocygen being his two main indicators of life. Not sure if theres a reasson why it would have to be biologicall activity rather than volcanism though.
posted by Artw at 9:30 AM on January 15, 2009


This does nothing to stop the "Starman" earworm I've had going for the last week. Not that it's a bad thing.

And also?

What the hell difference would it make?

It would mean we're not alone in this ginormous fucking universe.

And that would be incredible.
posted by Space Kitty at 9:30 AM on January 15, 2009


It would mean we're not alone in this ginormous fucking universe.

Unless it's bacteria from earth (or earth bacteria is from there).
posted by Artw at 9:31 AM on January 15, 2009


Has Nasa found life on Mars?
If a newspaper headline ends in a question mark, the answer is almost always "no". And so it is in this case. Later today, Nasa scientists will announce they have detected enormous releases of methane from Mars. Could it be evidence of martian life? Undoubtedly yes. Is it proof of life on Mars? Certainly not
posted by Artw at 9:36 AM on January 15, 2009


Flash forward 40 years and we'll be lamenting the time when NasaTV showed ice formations and jet propulsion videos since all they show now is these stupid alien dating shows.
posted by cashman at 9:53 AM on January 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nasa scientists will announce they have detected enormous releases of methane from Mars.


MARS NEEDS IMMODIUM AD!
posted by The Whelk at 9:55 AM on January 15, 2009


Russian oligarch to buy London Evening Standard
posted by Artw at 9:56 AM on January 15, 2009


If there is a life on other planets I, like Criswell, predict an increased interest in Space Geography in addition to Space Cuisine, Space Boots, Space Clothing, and Space Sex.
posted by juiceCake at 10:24 AM on January 15, 2009


If bacteria can live in my butt, they can sure as heck live on (or in) Mars.
posted by Mister_A at 10:39 AM on January 15, 2009


The press conference is live now, talking about methane varyign over time.
posted by scodger at 11:02 AM on January 15, 2009


Mars. er, ahm, needs women.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 11:15 AM on January 15, 2009


These assholes at The Sun are illiterate. Here's the second paragraph of their stupid story:

Nasa tonight streamed it (sic) historic findings live on its online televiosion (sic) channel which you can watch by clicking HERE.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 11:22 AM on January 15, 2009


2pm Press Conference Summary: Methane found coming out in variable amounts which suggests "active processes". We don't know if it's biological or geological in origin. But methane is a strong indicator of life, since life can both consume methane as food, and expel it as waste.

Methane was first detected in late 2003. Since then the data was refined to be unambiguously true. Future efforts will be to look for other signals that would suggest either a biological or geological origin.
posted by stbalbach at 11:24 AM on January 15, 2009


Here's NASA's article and related media from the presenters. The money quote:
"Right now, we don’t have enough information to tell if biology or geology -- or both -- is producing the methane on Mars," said [Goddard Space Flight Center's Dr. Michael] Mumma. "But it does tell us that the planet is still alive, at least in a geologic sense. It's as if Mars is challenging us, saying, hey, find out what this means."
posted by nicepersonality at 11:31 AM on January 15, 2009


Also, it is likely not from volcanoes as there is no SO2 in the air, which is present in eruptions.
How long till they can send a PCR machine there and really nail it?
posted by scodger at 11:31 AM on January 15, 2009


Other points: the methane is being released "seasonally". However it's unknown how old the methane is, one possibility it could be held in ancient ice and released as the ice melts.
posted by stbalbach at 11:41 AM on January 15, 2009


"The existence of life on Mars will mean nothing to the public until there is a death on Mars; a grizzly mysterious death..."

Here's the thing - if the life form discovered on Mars is in fact a grizzly, that is fucking newsworthy - I don't care who you are.
posted by Johnny Porno at 11:44 AM on January 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


one possibility it could be held in ancient ice and released as the ice melts.

More specifically, it could be clathrate hydrate's, same stuff on earth that is releasing methane as the planet warms (previously).
posted by stbalbach at 11:54 AM on January 15, 2009


it has some fairly serious theological implications which would be amusing to see hashed out

While intelligent life on another planet would have theological implications (and not ones that no one has ever thought about), I think mere animal or vegtable (or lesser) life wouldn't.

It ends the horrible four billion year reign of the kind of life that George Bush is.

But seriously, WTF is with that attitude? In a culture dominated by reality television, celebrity gossip, and political theater, there are actually people who whine about the utility of extraterrestrial life? How eff'ing dense do you have to be to not find the prospect of a universe filled with living things that aren't us incredibly exciting?

"If it's not my navel, I'm not interested!"


It seems another particular kind of navel-gazing to claim that something is a huge and revolutionary event and then relate it to the presidency of the last eight years.

Is it just me, or is there a trend towards preemptive FPPs? Bad science journalism is bad enough, but do we have to give them pageviews based on almost pure speculation?

Seconded.
posted by Jahaza at 11:57 AM on January 15, 2009


Interesting presser. It's good to see (a nicely varied group of) scientists being both deliberately conservative, careful and rational and obviously excited about the implications of their research.

A couple of points raised:
  1. The methane blooms come from several locations around the equator, and are seasonal. Complicating the research is the fact that the methane is decaying far faster on the surface than it would on Earth, through UV breakdown, chemical oxiders, or a biological process (a very interesting speculative point was raised near the end that methane consumption can be an efficient biological process, especially combined with sulphates that exist on the surface - hinting at the possibility of a life process there that may feed on the methane released from the sub-surface).
  2. Vulcanism seems to be an unlikely source of the methane, as other chemical markers that would be expected to be seen in volcanic process here on Earth are absent or scant. Isotopic ratios are also off.
  3. Cometary impact also is an unlikely source - the comet would have to be several kilometers in diameter and have impacted within the last several hundred years, and there's no crater evidence for that.
  4. The process (geological or organic) that produces methane tends to require liquid water, sub-surface (for which there is plenty of other evidence). Another (less exciting, and less likely) possibility is that ice clathrates, several billion years old, under a scarp face, breaking free and sublimating off methane as the temperature rises.
  5. A good deal of the productive research is taking place from here on Earth, rather than remotely: the Keck telescope has been mentioned several times.
For a science geek like myself, this is incredibly exciting news - another small piece of evidence that there is life on another planet. At the very least, we now know that Mars is geologically active, unlike the moon.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 12:02 PM on January 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


Unless it's bacteria from earth

That would be almost as fantastic, because it would mean living on Mars won't be nearly the hassle we seem to think it is. If our bacteria are running amok on Mars already, enough to cause fairly large methane emissions in a relatively short timeframe, it's a big deal.
posted by aramaic at 12:05 PM on January 15, 2009


I was thinking more of transferance between the two planets via metorites, rather than someone acidentally leaving their hanky on a viking probe.

We've got some weird and hardy extremophile bacteria here though, I'm sure given the chance some of them could make it.
posted by Artw at 12:08 PM on January 15, 2009


Those of you wondering about cross-planet origins might be interested in the Planetary Society's LIFE Experiment. It's set to head for Phobos this October, so long as no one kills the project due to contamination fears.
posted by jwells at 12:44 PM on January 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here's the paper that triggered this: Strong Release of Methane on Mars in Northern Summer 2003. At one point someone asked if they only had one sample point or multiple ones and Mumma indicated more papers were forthcoming with more data points. This one actually includes a bit from 2006 as well as 2003. The paper title seems to focus on the largest release in 03.
posted by jwells at 12:55 PM on January 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


You can't argue people into being excited about the possibility of life on another planet. Some people really are that hard to impress, that's all.

Me, I'm on the edge of my seat. The universe is an enormous, fascinating place, and even if the life discovered (if life is discovered) turns out to be some sort of parameceum, I'll be ecstatic.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:19 PM on January 15, 2009


The true scientific attitude toward this hoping for life on Mars is not "I hope we find life on Mars." It is:

I hope that we find the truth about whether or not there is life on Mars.

To wish for one or another outcome is virtual creationism.
posted by Faze at 1:55 PM on January 15, 2009


I think that's silly, and suggests scientists are supposed to be completely without a curious interest. I think you can hope to find something interesting on another planet without becoming a creationist.
posted by cashman at 2:18 PM on January 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


The true scientific attitude toward this hoping for life on Mars is not "I hope we find life on Mars." It is:

I hope that we find the truth about whether or not there is life on Mars.


You can't be serious. Scientists hope they find a cure for the HIV virus as well, and hope they find the truth about whether or not there is one.

I'm curious how you equate that hope with "virtual creationism". Please elaborate.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:28 PM on January 15, 2009


Mr. Lion, line one. Something about methane probes ...
posted by rudster at 3:07 PM on January 15, 2009


The first thing the Christian Right will privately launch into space is going to be a can of Raid.
posted by moonbird at 3:57 PM on January 15, 2009


Kinda hope they don't find life. If they do, everyone will be screaming against terraforming and colonizing the one (local) place we can do so.
posted by Kickstart70 at 4:38 PM on January 15, 2009


"Life on Mars could be good"

It was. Then the Americans remade it.
posted by Mr Bismarck at 6:01 PM on January 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


A scientist going to Mars hoping to find life, is like a creationist climbing Mt. Ararat hoping to find Noah's Ark. Neither will be satisfied by the truth.
posted by Faze at 6:46 PM on January 15, 2009


I'm sure a Christian fundamentalist - say... Sarah Palin ! - would have as little difficulty dealing with incontrovertible evidence of life on Mars as they do dealing with incontrovertible evidence of evolution...

The 7th Day Adventist church had a large and early influence on developing the concepts of young Earth creationism. Another strong belief taught by the religion is that there is life on other planets.

So don't get your hopes up that this would change anyone's anti-science religious beliefs.
posted by eye of newt at 9:01 PM on January 15, 2009


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing: You can't argue people into being excited about the possibility of life on another planet. Some people really are that hard to impress, that's all.

Me, I'm on the edge of my seat. The universe is an enormous, fascinating place, and even if the life discovered (if life is discovered) turns out to be some sort of parameceum, I'll be ecstatic.


On the first point, for me, anyway, it is not a question of being impressed or not impressed. It is the fact that I have a belief that Earth is not unique, or anything even approaching special, and that life is ubiquitous in the universe. Further, although it is the view of some people that a discovery like this would somehow affect the human condition and change everything, it is my view that it would, in fact, change nothing about us. In the end, it would just be another piece of information we have about the universe.

On the second point, there's this:

Why I Hope The Search for Extraterrestrial Life Finds Nothing [pdf]

Which I don't necessarily find convincing, but it does make an interesting argument.
posted by moonbiter at 9:55 PM on January 15, 2009


A scientist going to Mars hoping to find life, is like a creationist climbing Mt. Ararat hoping to find Noah's Ark. Neither will be satisfied by the truth.

This really makes no sense whatsoever. A creationist is already convinced that there was a Noah's Ark, without any physical evidence to support it. And anything he founds on Mt. Ararat will be regarded as proof of the ark. No scientist I've seen has stated that there IS life on Mars. Any scientist looking for signs of life on Mars must prove that the data confirms life on Mars, and that evidence must be cross-checked vigorously.

I realize you've painted yourself into a corner here rhetorically, but you really ought to re-think this line of "reasoning".
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:28 AM on January 16, 2009


If you believe that an all-powerful God created the Earth and all life upon it as well as the heavens (including Mars), why would it be against your beliefs that the same God is able to have also created life on Mars?
posted by Pollomacho at 7:47 AM on January 16, 2009


A scientist going to Mars hoping to find life, is like a creationist climbing Mt. Ararat hoping to find Noah's Ark. Neither will be satisfied by the truth.

Bravo. This is the kind of absurdist humour that makes me never forget Faze, despite the long absence. A performance I very much appreciate.
posted by juiceCake at 2:24 PM on January 16, 2009


Mars and Mercury Formed From Planetary Scraps
posted by homunculus at 11:33 PM on January 24, 2009


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