OT -- Life on Mars? Curiosity starting to make a case

Submitted by superstringer on June 7th, 2018 at 2:40 PM

WOW -- NASA's "Curiosity" robot on Mars found "organic material" and methane in the Martian soil, dating to about 3 billion years ago -- back when its surface was probably covered in water.


Not a total guarantee, but... you do the math, it's like having Durant and Curry on your team, there's no guarantee of a championship but C'MONG MAN.  Mars was likely teaming with life back then.

Still no word on intelligent life ever being present in East Lansing, however.


Chuck Norris

June 7th, 2018 at 2:45 PM ^

There's a part of me that hopes we don't find life on Mars, for Fermi Paradox reasons. If life on Mars is found, that points to very strong evidence that life appears all the time, whenever conditions for it exist. Twice in one solar system?

As such, the "great filter" hypothesized by the Fermi Paradox isn't the existence of life itself, and may very well be still ahead of us.

As such, life on Mars is probably bad news for any future dreams of humanity colonizing space.

Chuck Norris

June 7th, 2018 at 3:05 PM ^

To clarify, the "Fermi Paradox" asks the question: If interstellar travel is possible, and there are many stars in the galaxy much older than the sun with Earth-like planets circling those suns... where is everyone? Why hasn't alien life older and more intelligent/advanced than us already visited Earth?

A strong proposed hypothesis is that, somewhere along the development of life, there's a "great filter" that stops any potential civilization from colonizing the galaxy. That filter could be that the development of multicellular life is rare, or intelligent life, or civilization, or that the development of life itself is rare. Regardless, the hope is that the "great filter" is somewhere behind us.

The pessimistic view is that the great filter is still ahead of us; that what we've accomplished so far has been done countless times in countless solar systems, and that war or famine or simple lack of resources stops a civilization from advancing to galaxy-wide colonization.

As such, the existence and placement of "great filter" asks the ultimate question: are we destined to colonize the stars, or doomed to go extinct on Earth?

The discovery of life on Mars does not prove that the great filter is still ahead of us, but it removes a rung from the possibility that it's behind us.

Ecky Pting

June 7th, 2018 at 3:32 PM ^

The universe surely has, or has had, many instances of intelligent life evolving. What separates them quite simply is space-time. The scale of the universe is so vast that over the entire course of the history of a species, that species would not be able travel far enough so as to come across another species in the same time and place, unless by chance two environments evolve in close proximity to each other - but there's still the timing aspect, as appears to be our situation regarding Mars. We see now stars that are 100's of millions of light years away, meaning said light is 100's of millions of years old. The same star systems may well at this very moment hold wonderfully advanced beings, but by the time they (or records of them) reach us, humans and/or the others may both be extinct. That's not to say no two species have ever met up. That probably/surely has happened in consideration of how many species probably exist in the universe (or even a galaxy), but the likelihood remains not terribly great for any single species to come upon another.

4th phase

June 7th, 2018 at 4:48 PM ^

Yeah its a logistics issue. Its hard to imagine a way for a species to "colonize" a galaxy or build a galactic empire. Even if they have sufficiently long lifetimes that they can travel from star to star, once they started expanding and inhabiting multiple systems, they would have to manage their colonies. How would you coordinate a government or respond to crises when your messages could take 1,000+ years to travel from location to location. 


June 7th, 2018 at 3:40 PM ^

Answer #1: Chuck Norris roundhouse'd all alien life, and now we're alone.

Answer #2: if you're an alien species and you develop space travel that lets you cross interstellar gulfs...all else being equal: which direction do you travel? a) toward the center of the galaxy,  b) straight toward a relatively lonely small third-rate star in the unfashionable end of the western arm of the Milky Way

joubertly breathing

June 7th, 2018 at 5:11 PM ^

What if we ourselves are the product of an alien space colony and we are clumsily trying to find our way home?  Maybe our own innate sense to explore the cosmos is simply our biological instinct to phone home.  The idea of ascending to heaven is probably just a derivation of our inevitable return back to the original solar system from which we came.  

SMart WolveFan

June 8th, 2018 at 10:32 PM ^

If you extrapolate the concept of the "Goldilocks Zone" to the larger fractal universe, the zone in a solar system is a small slice of the whole but must be inside a Goldilocks Zone of the larger Galaxy, then in a zone of a supercluster, then, theoretically, in a area were specific Birkland currents are active with life giving electricity. That indicates that life is rare, dispersed and that it's "evolution" is more than likely homogeneous.

So we all meet in the middle of the universe at the same time! 

But it will still be an exclusive party.

Of course if we ever find signs of life on Pluto, then we're all fucked. I mean it's not even a planet ........or is it?


June 7th, 2018 at 5:38 PM ^

We have already begun the great filter.  It started shortly after WW2, and we have been flirting with it ever since.  Things that we are doing are causing changes that are imperceptively slow to the naked eye, which causes a lack of immediate concern which can push us further into the boiling pot.  

I think that we have the technology to survive almost anything as a species right now, short of a few cataclysmic events.  If our atmosphere disappeared tomorrow, we would be gone.  However, if we knew that Earth would be uninhabitable in a decade, we could easily adapt - at least some of us would have the resources to do so. 

However, we may find ourselves hanging in the balance - I can picture a future where a life on Earth is similar to a life on Mars.  I think we have the resources to live a 'Mars' life on Earth right now, but it would put a huge strain on our species.


June 8th, 2018 at 9:05 AM ^

The Great Filter isn't hypothesized or implied by the Fermi Paradox. It's just one possible idea that is consistent with the (extremely) limited data that we have.

I don't think we have anywhere close to enough data to make an informed guess as to the resolution of the Paradox. If I had to guess, I'd probably put my money on the idea that life and intelligent life is surpassingly rare. People who say "There are 200 billion stars in the galaxy, there's no way that there can't be life on some of them" usually do not know anything about the probabilities that they are talking about, in my experience.


June 7th, 2018 at 2:54 PM ^

This stuff gets oversold all the time, part of NASA's need to continually justify its funding. Understandable, but not productive for scientific inquiry. There is, as of yet, no evidence of life on Mars; there is evidence of material (water and now these molecules) that can also be associated and involved with metabolic life. 

What is found here is a necessary requirement for the existence of life as we understand it, not evidence that such life exists. It's the equivalent to someone arguing that there is a major league baseball team in a major city using the presence of a grass field, since grass fields are (generally) necessary for baseball. They might be in New York City and happen to be right, or they might be in Edmonton and be dead wrong. 


June 7th, 2018 at 5:11 PM ^

You must not have read the OP, which included this gem:

Not a total guarantee, but... you do the math, it's like having Durant and Curry on your team, there's no guarantee of a championship but C'MONG MAN. Mars was likely teaming with life back then.

This isn't the first time NASA has teased a "big announcement" that wound up being underwhelming. This isn't that bad, relatively speaking--the "extraterrestrial life" findings that turned out to be unusual bacteria on Earth kinda takes the cake there. The point is that this stuff comes up a lot, but it doesn't mean much yet.


June 7th, 2018 at 5:35 PM ^

"Most" is a huge stretch. Yeah, there have been benefits from NASA (velcro!) and there is some real value in things like the space program. Lately, though, NASA has been spending a lot of its money renting space on Soyuz capsules and maintain the ISS while slooooowly building a massive heavy-lift rocket that may or may not ever actually be used to do anything substantial. 

NASA is a bureau of the government, and it runs on tax dollars. That means that their survival is dependent upon politics, and that means that they have to maintain positive mindspace in the American public to avoid being the kind of budget cut that allows a hefty compromise tax bill to get approval from both sides of congress. 

As a consequence, they publicize things like this, and release splashy pictures from Mars probes and Hubble (which I love!), and they cooperate with the production of various movies that get the NASA name up on the big screen. At a time when there are few spectacles, and some of their most successful work is totally routine (the ISS has been continuously occupied for almost 18 years!), they feel they need to show that they still matter.

I'm not a huge fan of a lot of that, but it's a smart and natural thing for a bureaucratic organization to do to maintain its funding, and it has worked. NASA has never been subject to the political football that, say, PBS has, and that is because for all of its (considerable) flaws it remains very popular. 

And NASA continues to hold potential for the truly spectacular. Few government institutions hold so much intrinsic potential for future awesomeness.


June 7th, 2018 at 4:37 PM ^

I wouldn't say NASA is overselling anything.  It is a noteworthy discovery and is being reported factually by the agency.  They can't help that people immediately let their imaginations take off with a million possibilities.  

And as far as this being some done by NASA as part of an effort to grease their trade, that may be correct.  But nonetheless this is an important discovery that should be considered when funding decisions are made.  There are also people on Earth who have a vested interest in downplaying the possibility of life on other planets in order to grease their own trade.  Just saying.


June 7th, 2018 at 5:46 PM ^

While organic material is necessary for life (at least, the only mode of life we are familiar with), it is by no means sufficient. And organic material can be created in countless abiotic ways.


Also: more posters should be attentive to this thread's Fermi Paradox guy. It may very well be best for humanity to never discover life elsewhere, not even to discover truly harmless microscopic life. This has nothing to do with fears about super0-intelligent malevolent scifi lifeforms. This is about the odds that humanity has a long prosperous future ahead of it...and how finding any life anywhere shifts the odds between whether we are rare and lucky versus common and likely doomed.


June 7th, 2018 at 5:49 PM ^

"Why hasn't alien life older and more intelligent/advanced than us already visited Earth?"



June 8th, 2018 at 6:26 PM ^

Nah, Tesla should be profitable by the end of the year or first quarter 2019, given that they are now producing 3,500 Model 3's per week and will have sustained production of 5,000-6,000 per week by mid-summer. Wall Street is seeing those numbers as well, given the stock price is up 15% this week, and shorts are getting destroyed. My main info source is electrek.co  


June 7th, 2018 at 10:20 PM ^

as featured in the Wes Anderson film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou I give you Seu Jorge's cover of the late David Bowie's classic Life on Mars? 



June 8th, 2018 at 2:30 AM ^

(Kind of a) geochemist here.  IMO, this is a shitty paper that NASA masssively oversold, per their usual.  Their kids need feeding too, etc etc.

First off, this paper merely puts out in a peer reviewed format data that was either already disclosed, leaked by the research team, or obvious.  The methane data was discussed at AGU and everyone was familiar with the travails of the SAM.  Basically they fucked up their analytical device and this ‘new’ paper is just a reanalysis of old data to prove that they found a signal that’s still statistically significant even with their astronomically high (pun intended) blank.  Whoopie.

More importantly, as soon as the sediment they drilled out of the mudstones started coming out colors other than Martian red, preservation of organic was pretty much a foregone conclusion.  It’s one of the few geochemical analyses you can do by eye.  Base metal color is super sensitive to redox state, so anything grayish or greenish is good to go for organic preservation.  Alteration by perchlorate would change the color of the rock just like it has the soil.

It’s not 100% accurate,  but it’s good enough and the arguments for how post-diagenetic alteration could destroy organics were stupid and not supported by analog environments on earth.  Short of frying the fuck out of sediment, I’ve never seen organics consumed throughout a unit by groundwater interaction, even with oxidizing fluid. Low temp disgensis generally preserves organics, and if the rock is fucking  gray then the odds were even more infentesimal that organics wouldn’t be preserved.  

So the end result of the most expensive geochemical experiment of the last generation is a busted analysis that reconfirms an obvious result that was obtained with zero geochemical tech. Surely worth the cover of Science!

(Ps: which is not to say that the results of Curiosity aren’t worthy of all the praise they’re getting but that praise should be directed to the geologists and engineers who got them a drill sample from a hard-to-reach spot on Mars that exposed ancient sediment.  THAT is an incredible achievement.  Publishing shitty data from a busted experiment is not.

The Fan in Fargo

June 8th, 2018 at 5:05 PM ^

No offense to some of you guys on here with your narrow but impressive intelligence but just put the church and what we call science and our limited knowledge of it aside for a moment and consider the possibility that there were far more advanced species than us. Millions of years ago is what I'm saying all of you super-max locked down brains. Shit, the proof is in the ocean. That's all the more time I'm going to waste on this thread.


June 8th, 2018 at 8:25 PM ^

Up to this point in the thread, I don't think anyone said anything for or against the possible existence of far more advanced species at some other time. But, the fossil record on this planet, along with the genetic information passed from species to species over geologic time, doesn't show any such thing. Instead, we see life slowly evolving and becoming more sophisticated over time in the fossil record, culminating in the breakout success of our own species, humans (homo sapiens), thanks to having crossed a threshold of increased brain size and brain stem wiring (about 60,000 years ago) that gave us a level of consciousness and cognitive reasoning to dominate all species competing with us for survival. Count me in the camp on this thread of people who have concluded that the mind-boggling distances between stars within our own Milky Way galaxy (which has a billion stars), let alone across the whole universe (which has tens of billions of galaxies) is why we haven't been in contact with any other intelligent life. My favorite winter constellation is Orion, and I was looking at its giant red star Betelgeuse a few months ago, realizing that the light hitting my eye at that second was emitted by that star in the year AD1466.

SMart WolveFan

June 8th, 2018 at 11:03 PM ^

I like were you're going but just one thing, what does the existence of million year old advanced civilizations of Earth have to do with life on Mars?

I'd think those civilizations would exist with or without life on Mars.

Especially if the Earth was in the warm plasma environment of Saturn for much longer than Mars. Of course, that would also help explain the catastrophic ends of the million year old civilizations and why adaption to the worsening environment actually has the species devolving over the last 10,000 years.