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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Life On Mars? And Thus Across The Universe? Is That Worth Knowing? - Not According To Our Rulers

meteorite_mars structures and compositional features within the a 30-pound (13.7-kilogram) Yamato meteorite suggest biological processes might have been at work on Mars hundreds of millions of years ago.

Analyses found that the rock was formed about 1.3 billion years ago from a lava flow on Mars. Around 12 million years ago, an impact occurred on Mars that ejected the meteorite from the surface of Mars. The meteorite traveled through space until it fell in Antarctica about 50,000 years ago.
The team found two distinctive sets of features associated with Martian-derived clay. They found tunnel and micro-tunnel structures that thread their way throughout Yamato 000593. The observed micro-tunnels display curved, undulating shapes consistent with bio-alteration textures observed in terrestrial basaltic glasses, previously reported by researchers who study interactions of bacteria with basaltic materials on Earth.

The second set of features consists of nanometer- to-micrometer-sized spherules that are sandwiched between layers within the rock and are distinct from carbonate and the underlying silicate layer.

Similar spherical features have been previously seen in the Martian meteorite Nakhla that fell in 1911 in Egypt. Composition measurements of the Y000593 spherules show that they are significantly enriched in carbon compared to the nearby surrounding iddingsite layers.

A striking observation is that these two sets of features in Y000593, recovered from Antarctica after about 50,000 years residence time, are similar to features found in Nakhla, an observed fall collected shortly after landing.

The authors note that they cannot exclude the possibility that the carbon-rich regions in both sets of features may be the product of abiotic (non-life) mechanisms: however, textural and compositional similarities to features in terrestrial samples, which have been interpreted as biogenic, imply the intriguing possibility that the Martian features were formed by biotic activity.

“This is no smoking gun,” said JPL’s White. “We can never eliminate the possibility of contamination in any meteorite. But these features are nonetheless interesting and show that further studies of these meteorites should continue.”

    Indeed not a smoking gun but another in a lengthening series of meteors originating on Mars that show formations that could be life and for which no other explanation holds water.

   Also the similarity with the Antarctica meteor found shortly after landing supports both. If some life process on Earth (or any other process) was causing this then the size of the effect would be expected to be much greater in the current sample than the previous one:

      Effect X 50,000 years = Effect X "shortly after landing" 
             works only when Effect = 0

     It is possible to believe life is unique to this planet. It is not possible to believe it is unique to the first 2 planets we know. If life exists, or existed on Mars it is almost certainly common across the universe. Theoretically it could have formed once in our solar system and not survived any trip on a comet or moved by light pressure to another system but I do not believe that EVERY bacterium on that journey would have failed to survive and once you accept it happening once a geometric expansion is inevitable.

     And if that isn't important enough to spend a few billions on pure research then I cannot think of anything that ever would be and we should settle down to the advantages of living like pigs in muck.

    I have previously here and here and here, oh and here written on this, particularly with regard to life on asteroids, comets and open space but Mars looks like the best place to look.

    Finding life on Mars was the objective of the Beagle 2 probe in w2003 (cost £44 million, half paid by non-government donations). It failed like 19 of all 38 probes sent to Mars.

   Despite failing it had proven immensely successful with the people and Colin Pillinger proposed to send 2 more in 2009 - this was the Beagle 3 proposal. Since all the development work had been done this would be cheaper than the original.

   Naturally Parliament stepped in and ran an enquiry so that the MPs, with their deep scientific knowledge, could tell him where he went wrong. They and ESA agreed they should take over and, devote £200 million to a successor to ensure it worked and not sending anything until they were sure it could be done successfully. Still waiting.


   Perhaps it is time, or more than time, to try again. With launch costs dropping and SpaceX existing to put Elon Musk on Mars before he dies (and also produce a spacegoing civilisation) and with the normal reduction in costs of cutting edge technology I suspect it could be done now for no more than half the original cost (correcting for inflation). That matches the commercial donors who paid for the original. Or smaller governments like those of Singapore or Abu Dhabi.

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There may be other life in the universe. OK.

But am I the only one to think the idea that they can identify a rock in the whole of Antarctica of which they have only surveyed about 5%, that came from a meteor that has been ejected from Mars - the train of events is just too far fetched. Why isn't it just a meteor? Why do they have to concoct this extremely tenious story?
I believe they identify such rocks as meteorites when they are lying near the surface of the snow. The native rocky surface being several thousand feet down. Also by the rock's geology. This makes them relatively easy to identify there - also because Antarctica is, relatively, devoid of life, it reduces, but cannot eliminate the possibility contamination. We have to go to Mars or the comets to eliminate that (& even then there is the risk of our probe bringing along some microbe).
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