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Martian soil may contain life, ...or maybe not
Stu
post Aug 23 2007, 09:27 PM
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Sounds like the presentation went down very well, congrats Doug! (well worth downloading the slides too everyone, by the way...)

On a slightly different subject, wonder how many of you have come across this yet..?

"Martian soil might contain life"

Offered without comment or opinion, just wondered if anyone had seen it... reckon it'll be all over the news tomorrow.


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ddeerrff
post Aug 23 2007, 09:52 PM
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From the DrudgeReport, unattributed:

QUOTE
"Martian soil may contain life
Thu Aug 23 2007 11:30:10 ET

The soil on Mars may contain microbial life!

Joop Houtkooper of the University of Giessen, Germany, will declare on Friday the Viking spacecraft may have found signs of a weird life form based on hydrogen peroxide on the subfreezing, arid Martian surface.

His analysis of one of the experiments carried out by the Viking spacecraft suggests that 0.1 percent of the Martian soil could be of biological origin.

That is roughly comparable to biomass levels found in some Antarctic permafrost, home to a range of hardy bacteria and lichen.

Developing.... "
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nprev
post Aug 23 2007, 09:54 PM
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(sigh)...Yeah, I saw it, Stu; getting ready for a barrage of speculation/questions from co-workers & friends (maybe; microscopic life possibilities don't really seem to grab the general public's imagination).

Frankly, it looks to me like a somewhat cynical attempt to hedge bets & get on the record before Phoenix lands. Harsh critique, I know, but there it is anyhow. In the US, it looks like Associated Press picked up the buzz phrases of one phone interview & ran with it; the verbiage looks much the same elsewhere.


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ElkGroveDan
post Aug 23 2007, 09:57 PM
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Here's the Space.com article - a bit less sensational:

Claim of Martian Life Called 'Bogus'
http://www.space.com/news/070823_mars_life.html


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djellison
post Aug 23 2007, 10:37 PM
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Space.com article also a little bit bogus...

'Houtkooper presented his findings at the European Planetary Science Congress in Potsdam, Germany this week. '


Nope - he's presenting it tomorrow - 1430, 3rd presentation of session TP8 in Workshop Room 2. It's going to be my last session - in intend to deploy any and every ounce of my non existant journalistic skills to try and get somthing good out of it as a 'response' to the mass media mass hysteria interpretation of a press release.

Doug
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Guest_AlexBlackwell_*
post Aug 23 2007, 11:49 PM
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I remember mentioning this work a couple of months ago.
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nprev
post Aug 24 2007, 12:20 AM
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QUOTE (ElkGroveDan @ Aug 23 2007, 02:57 PM) *
Here's the Space.com article - a bit less sensational:

Claim of Martian Life Called 'Bogus'
http://www.space.com/news/070823_mars_life.html


Good article, Dan; lots more critical thinking evident here. I mean, for starters, we're asked to believe that H2O2--somewhat less than a stable compound-- is and has been abundant (and enduring) enough on Mars to serve as a fundamental chemical in a chain of assumptions (that gets even more specious if the logic is followed) that ultimately leads to an active, modern alien biochemistry partly based on this highly volatile substance. The Viking results didn't even definitively prove that elemental carbon was present in the samples in any significant amount!

Does anybody else see blue puddles of Martian water stuck to the wall of a crater here? rolleyes.gif I mean, c'mon!


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nprev
post Aug 24 2007, 12:39 AM
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QUOTE (djellison @ Aug 23 2007, 03:37 PM) *
Space.com article also a little bit bogus...

'Houtkooper presented his findings at the European Planetary Science Congress in Potsdam, Germany this week. '


Nope - he's presenting it tomorrow - 1430.


Nice. mad.gif Okay, so that's where it's at.

Doug, the only answer to sensationalism and shameless publicity for its own sake is cold, hard reason backed up by known facts...and you've got 'em. Hit the arm switch and pickle off the missiles during repeated passes at the target...it is non-survivable unless something truly, madly, deeply convincing is concurrently presented in terms of supporting evidence.


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Gray
post Aug 24 2007, 07:30 PM
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Doug,
That was a well-written report of the Joop paper.
Sometimes just one question will put a hypothesis in its proper perspective. Your question about the boiling point of H2O2 at 6 millibars was just that sort of question.
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nprev
post Aug 24 2007, 10:21 PM
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Yes. Excellent work, Doug, respectful in tone yet properly skeptical, and the boiling point question was a home run. (The MER images combined with the dust storm seem to introduce a perceptual bias in many people; easy to forget that there ain't much air up there!)

To give Joop his due: It's proper to present internally consistent hypotheses, however unlikely they may be, to try to explain ambiguous experimental results which are difficult or impossible to duplicate in a timely fashion such as those obtained from Levin's Viking instrumentation. Critical examination of such hypotheses invariably leads to more refined & often completely new questions; eventually, we'll find the right ones to ask.


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helvick
post Aug 25 2007, 07:41 AM
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Agree 100% with nprev there - Doug's question was the important one to ask but to be fair to Joop this was an inciteful and reasonable hypothesis that certainly deserved to be presented - he shouldn't be held accountable for the shoddy media sensationalism.
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atomoid
post Aug 25 2007, 07:03 PM
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QUOTE (helvick @ Aug 25 2007, 12:41 AM) *
...but to be fair to Joop this was an inciteful and reasonable hypothesis that certainly deserved to be presented - he shouldn't be held accountable for the shoddy media sensationalism.

Thats right!.. insightful enough to incite a riot of sensational headlines in the media!

I greatly enjoyed Joop's speculation, it reminds us to keep thinking outside the box! so yes it wasnt like the retarded blue puddle parked up on the side of Burns cliff (i still wince for those involved every time i think about it, cant quite get over that one).
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marsbug
post Aug 28 2007, 12:50 PM
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QUOTE (helvick @ Aug 25 2007, 08:41 AM) *
" Doug's question was the important one to ask "

Certainly, but whats the answer? I thought that with it being in wide use the temperature-pressure curve for H2O2 would be widely available, but I cant find it anywhere!


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djellison
post Aug 28 2007, 01:03 PM
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If there's a graph that shows the behaviour of a 60:40 Peroxide/Water mix within a cell membrane of some sort at 6mbar....that I'm sure Joop would like to see it smile.gif

Doug
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dvandorn
post Aug 28 2007, 01:32 PM
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Remember, though, that we may be talking about really, really tiny microbes, here -- there are terrestrial analogues of very tiny cellular life (which also happen to be extremophiles). And if the formations in that AHL meteor really are fossilized bacteria, and if they represent an average size population, we could be talking truly tiny microbes, indeed.

At those sizes, you are dealing with such little fluid compared to the overall biomass that you don't need a huge amount of liquid H2O2 to sustain a subsoil biosphere.

I'd be interested in seeing a chemical analysis of the types of recognizable (or even semi-recognizable) biochemical functions that can be supported by H2O2 before I made a final judgment. And I'd want to know if you would need as much carbon to support such functions as is required by terrestrial biochemistry.

The real issue in re fossilized Martian life, of course, is that the AHL formations occur within carbonate clasts of the rock. We've had precious little luck identifying *any* carbonates on the surface of Mars, from orbit or from the surface. I get the feeling that Mars has lost or hidden most of the carbonates it once had, and thus most of its fossil record (if one exists at all) is either gone or inaccessible.

-the other Doug


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