Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Exclusive: NASA Researchers Claim Evidence of Present Life on Mars

"Stoker told her private audience Sunday evening that by comparing discoveries made at Rio Tinto with data collected by ground-based telescopes and orbiting spacecraft, including the European Space Agency's Mars Express, she and Lemke have made a very a strong case that life exists below Mars' surface.

"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 like Rio Tinto that have been found to harbor life despite their inhospitable environments."

But that's not all:

A whiff of life on the Red Planet

"Now Formisano is saying that there is much more methane on Mars. He bases this on the detection of a different gas, formaldehyde, by the Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS), an instrument on Mars Express that he runs. Formisano averaged thousands of measurements taken by the PFS and calculated that the Martian atmosphere has formaldehyde in concentrations of 130 parts per billion.

"He thinks that the gas is being produced by the oxidation of methane and estimates that 2.5 million tonnes of methane per year are needed to produce it. 'I believe that until it is demonstrated that non-biological processes can produce this, possibly the only way to produce so much methane is life,' he says. 'My conclusion is there must be life in the soil of Mars.'"

Decidedly speculative but no less relevant:

Under martian ice (by Stephen Baxter)

"I'm sure you're familiar with the question Enrico Fermi asked in 1950: 'Where is everybody?' If extraterrestrial aliens exist, they should have spread everywhere by now. So how come we don't see them? Our vision of the Universe has expanded greatly since 1950, but we've still turned up no incontrovertible evidence of intelligence away from Earth. Until now.

"In retrospect, we should have expected to find traces of long-gone travellers. Interstellar visits were actually more likely in ancient times than now. The Galaxy's peak star-formation rate seems to have been some five billion years ago -- just before the birth of the Sun -- so most stars and planetary systems must be older than our own. The Galaxy's climax as an arena for nurturing civilization was deep in the past.

"And if they did come to the Solar System so long ago, where would they have visited?

"Early Mars was more hospitable to life than Earth. Being smaller, Mars cooled quicker, and life made an earlier start. Mars was less of a target for the planet-sterilizing impactors that roamed the young Solar System. Young Mars even enjoyed an atmosphere rich in oxygen. Indeed, as everybody knows by now, we've confirmed that the original source of life on Earth was in fact Mars, transmitted by impact-detached meteorites."