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Did we really just find life on Mars?


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Reports are out that the Mars Rover Curiosity team has "BIG news" to share from Mars. There is talk about really interesting data coming from the SAM chemistry device. What do you think it will be?

 

 

How likely is it in your opinion that we just found the first ever evidence for life on another planet?

 

http://www.npr.org/2012/11/20/165513016/big-news-from-mars-rover-scientists-mum-for-now

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Well, its tough to say. I can't imagine anything else that would be as significant, but scientists can get excited about silly things ;).

 

I will split the difference and say that they may have found evidence that increases the probabilty of, or is suggestive of life, or past life, on Mars. I do not suspect that they will make a definitive announcement.

 

But, I am one who believes that there is far more life out there, and possibly in our own solar system, then most would have ever suspected. I really do think that life can be seen as a natural course of planetary evolution.

Edited by akh
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Hmm - it's a chemistry lab so it won't have discovered a long-lost digital watch; but perhaps chlorophyll like substance (is this even possible - not sure how well it survives outside living cells), amino acids, more complex organic molecules... I am fascinated but just don't have the chemistry knowledge

 

SAM has the following bits :

from here - Sample Analysis on Mars

 

 

I would presume that those toys - even operating remotely - would be able to isolate and identify a whole raft of molecules that have a distinctively biological-life signature; hopefully one of the chem experts could hazard a guess as to the sort of molecules/structures one could identify with that bunch of tricks. Or it could be the third option and the first whiff of CO2 or CH4 has marked biological origin.

 

Seems NASA haven't quite kicked the hype-habit (after the arsenic dna life forms saga) and can't resist priming the pump - but let's hope this one is really worthy of all the hype, and in many years time we will remember where we first discussed what turns out to be alien life.

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Depending on ionization source these instruments can indeed be used to identify biological molecules, though I expect that the are primarily used to identify simple molecules and not for example proteins or peptides. Of course there are also smaller organic compounds that may be indicative of biological activity.

To be honest, even if those were found I would not be terribly excited (as scientist). I would be more interested in the nature of the organism (and how similar or different they are from terrestrial lifeforms). Just finding evidence is somewhat intriguing but I feel it does not ultimately teach us much.

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Depending on ionization source these instruments can indeed be used to identify biological molecules, though I expect that the are primarily used to identify simple molecules and not for example proteins or peptides. Of course there are also smaller organic compounds that may be indicative of biological activity.

To be honest, even if those were found I would not be terribly excited (as scientist). I would be more interested in the nature of the organism (and how similar or different they are from terrestrial lifeforms). Just finding evidence is somewhat intriguing but I feel it does not ultimately teach us much.

 

I really hope they have electrospray ionization on that mass spec. I shan't be excited by some lame elemental analysis (think "arsenate" bacteria scandal).

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I would be surprised if they put in an ESI the chances for failure would be far too high (e.g. clogging, not to mention the requirement for liquid handling). My assumption is that it is mostly designed for gas phase analysis. As such I feel that the capabilities would be severely limited. In addition, I do not think that they put a high priority on the search for biological molecules, when they designed the system. I assume that the likelihood for finding something would be too low for the costs involved.

 

Edit: I am being stupid, imatfaal posted what they had: a GC. Presumably it is coupled to the quad and TLS (with switchable lines for example). EI is the most likely ionization strategy, then.

Edited by CharonY
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Actually I think it is part of the news embargo associated with Science articles and I think Nature has a similar policy (for the arsenic paper). Only after a certain amount of time you are allowed to publicly talk about accepted manuscripts. And this stuff is probably still somewhat far away from publication.

Edited by CharonY
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I think that, if they saw a Martian rabbit go hopping by, there's nothing that could restrain that news for a split second.

 

If the discovery was one organic molecule, I think it would be exciting, but not "one for the history books".

 

So, I'm guessing that it's a spectrum of organic molecules that much more than suggests life on Mars, but closer to life on Mars as a reality.

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Just to put things back into perspective, as quoted from CNN article;

 

 

NASA-Jet Propulsion Laboratory spokesman Guy Webster told CNN that the science team is not ready to discuss the soil inspection from SAM and that the same policy applied to past results from the Curiosity mission.

 

"The scientists want to gain confidence in the findings before taking them outside of the science team. As for history books, the whole mission is for the history books," he wrote in an e-mail. "John was excited about the quality and range of information coming in from SAM during the day a reporter happened to be sitting in John's office last week. He has been similarly excited by results at other points during the mission so far."

 

 

Full halt on expectations. See, scientist do get excited by silly things ;). The sad thing is that many have already, and will continue to accuse NASA of sensationalism. The major point that is missed is that a NPR journalist was present during the initial data downloads. That's the point of origin, and the only point of origin, not a NASA press release. The NASA website makes no mention of the above events. I would expect that any scientist would be as excited as a sports fan who just saw their team score a t-down (some of those fans get excited to the point of insanity), when new data is presented. Should the journalist report the excitement? Yes, that's journalism. But I would not blame NASA if the hype did not meet the expectations of the hopeful. Equally, any result should not give those who feel NASA is a waste of tax dollars any traction either. To me, anything that furthers our knowledge and understanding of reality is worth the effort. Sometimes that knowledge excites the minds of a select few. But sometimes, on occasion, something is discovered that truly turns things on end. Rarely, are they ever punctuated events.

 

 

Edited by akh
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From JPL:

 

They are cautiously optimistic and will avoid a false-alarm statement.

The finding is not expected as something predicted to be found on Mars.

 

 

--This statement would seem to eliminate the finding to be of a life-form subject.

--This statement would not eliminate the possibility of the finding to be of a rare mineral, gem, isotope, ore, or meteor sample that would confirm some great truth about solar system dynamics.

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How likely is it in your opinion that we just found the first ever evidence for life on another planet?

I think it is unlikely, as I suspect the Labelled Release experiment on the Viking spacecraft provided the first such evidence. That would make any life evidence her the second instance. (Third, if you count the Viking spacecraft separately.)

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My expectation is that they have found organic molecules of some kind. Because they seem to be making a big deal of it maybe these molecules are complicated enough that they believe that it could likely have no other source than living organisms living now, or in the past. Anything less such as water near the surface or methane in the soil would seemly be of far less interest, and maybe they wouldn't be making such a big deal of it with checks and counter checks, which they seem to be doing based upon the news. .

Edited by pantheory
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Well, I should have know, but it was fun to hope...

 

 

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2012/11/27/nasa_mars_discovery_misunderstanding_mission_leader_excited_about_entire.html

 

What Grotzinger was actually trying to convey is that Curiosity’s data over her entire two-year mission will further our knowledge of Mars more than ever before, making it a historical mission.

So to recap, Grotzinger was apparently trying to express just how excited he was about the entire mission, not about any one specific discovery; it is the sum of all of Curiosity's past and future discoveries that he thinks will be historic.

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Well, it doesn't hurt to hope. Its still disappointing. I agree with Grotzinger, the mission should be one for the history books, but I know some will feel its a failure if no definative evidence of life is found.

 

But, the mission has really just started. Much more is ahead for Curiosity.

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