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Life on Mars

Here's some pretty big news that is being largely overlooked (so far) by the MSM:

A pair of NASA scientists told a group of space officials at a private meeting here Sunday that they have found strong evidence that life may exist today on Mars, hidden away in caves and sustained by pockets of water.

The two scientists, according to sources at the Sunday meeting, based their case in part on Mars’ fluctuating methane signatures that could be a sign of an active underground biosphere and nearby surface concentrations of the sulfate jarosite, a mineral salt found on Earth in hot springs and other acidic bodies of water....

Okay, granted, it's not a six-limbed furry creature or the ruins of some ancient temple. It's methane signatures potenitally indicative of microbes. Big deal.

Well, yeah. It is a big deal.

If, like me, you suspect that there is probably life elsewhere in the universe, what does it say about how abundant life may be if we just happen to find some on, oh, you know...the next planet over? Maybe it's just a coincidence. Or maybe it's not that big a deal because both Earth and Mars are in the orbital sweet spot for life in this solar system.

Doesn't matter. It's a big deal. If this pans out, we now know of life on twice as many planets as we did before. And we shouldn't go dissing microbes. The individual cells that make up our complex, sophisticated bodies owe quite a bit to single-celled organisms. In fact, it's what they used to be. Finding microbes on one planet pegs the odds of eventually finding wookies — or some such — elsewhere much, much higher.

Granted, there's a tendency to be a little twice shy about this whole "life on Mars" thing. Actually, we may even be thrice shy. Seems like the first scoop of soil that the Viking lander analyzed just about proved that there was life on Mars. Followed by some major backpedaling. Then there was that Martian meteor with fossils in it a few years ago. Yup, more backpedaling.

Maybe the MSM is playing it safe. No harm in being cautious, I suppose. After all, if they ignore it, they're just missing out on the single biggest news story of all time. Still, rather than running huge headlines declaring that life has definitely been found on Mars, couldn't they at least just mention that the issue is being revisited?

But there could be more than just caution at work, here. After all, both J. Lo and Michael Jackson are sick. How much bandwidth is the MSM supposed to have?

All I can say to that is: thank God for GeekPress. Not to mention InstaPundit! Thanks for the link, Glenn.


It's vaguely possible that it's actually Earth-life, or more likely common contamination. If we find any kind of life on cometary bodies, that would make a strong case for at least one of those.

"And we shouldn't go dissing microbes. The individual cells that make up our complex, sophisticated bodies owe quite a bit to single-celled organisms."

In fact, there is a compelling theory that holds that microbes are all that we are likely to find, anywhere, ever. So we should take them seriously, because it may be a long wait before we see any wookies.

Here's the New Scientist article on this:


Funny you should mention Michael Jackson. I first heard the story of the possibility of life on Mars from a quip Letterman made last night. It went something like this, "Scientist speculate that life might exist in caves, pockets of water and in court in Santa Maria."

There is an invisible price for skepticism which scientists don't admit exists.

The original Viking lander experiments in the 1970's were all positive for signs of life. When those results were reported the scientific community fell all over itself to find possible flaws in the experiments. There is nothing wrong with that; it is how science protects itself from bad work. When a possible alternative suggestion was found scientists started ridiculing and discrediting the Viking results. There is something wrong with that; the Viking experiments were not ridiculous. What was ridiculous was the alternative explanation of the results.

Suppose that the original Viking results had been reported as proof of "rare triox compounds in Martian soil" That would have been ridiculed (quite correctly) as ignoring the possibility of biological contamination of the sample. Reporting the results as "triox" would have been ridiculous.

So badly were the Viking experiments trashed and the reputations of the experimenters tarnished that no one has had the courage to go back to Mars for direct confirmation. That is the hidden cost of skepticism; it delays and sometimes prevents progress.

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