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Stu
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.
ddeerrff
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.... "
nprev
(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.
ElkGroveDan
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
djellison
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
AlexBlackwell
I remember mentioning this work a couple of months ago.
nprev
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!
nprev
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.
Gray
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.
nprev
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.
helvick
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.
atomoid
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).
marsbug
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!
djellison
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
dvandorn
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
nprev
Interesting speculations, oDoug.

Beginning to think that the next Flagship to Mars (after MSL) needs to be chock full o' microscopes & culture solutions, from straight optical all the way down to a miniaturized SEM. Let's settle this once and for all.

If there is Martian microbial life, and if its either extremophilic in a way that's hard for us to encourage growth and/or is significantly different from terrestrial life biochemically, then direct detection of individual bugs rather than indirect chemical analyses of candidate biological byproducts seems like the only possible strategy to avoid these "ifs".
marsbug
My thinking exactly nprev. smile.gif It's an interesting piece of speculation, and I'm glad to hear that the originators at least have been responsible and presented it as just that, no more or less. I'd be very interested to see if they can come up with some predictions that might be tested by pheonix. It would be a long shot, but if they found some supporting evidence who knows? wink.gif
nprev
That's the thing, though. The VL results have been controversial for 31 years (!) now, and the subject of so much speculation that it's clear that no conclusion can ever be positively obtained from them. If we keep sending purely biochemically-focused life detection experiments then I don't think that we'll ever have a definitive answer to the fundamental question "Is there life on Mars?" because there will always be alternative inorganic explanations for any results obtained, or a given experiment's assumptions may be flawed, or purported microMartians don't eat & excrete in expected ways & patterns, etc., etc....it'll never end. We just don't know enough about what is and is not possible with respect to biochemistry to qualitatively analyze results from such experiments, and Joop's paper is providing some very serendipitous, extremely valuable illumination by making this point.

Apparently, the only true touchstone we have for life detection is that we know it when we see it. Let's get a mission together that can see. We can figure out the critters' biochemistry later, if they really are there.
mchan
QUOTE (nprev @ Aug 28 2007, 07:41 AM) *
Beginning to think that the next Flagship to Mars (after MSL) needs to be chock full o' microscopes & culture solutions, from straight optical all the way down to a miniaturized SEM.

While not an SEM and with limitations on the field size, the AFM on Phoenix should provide some interesting views at um scales. Not enough to see nanobacteria fossils, though. smile.gif

http://www.lpi.usra.edu/meetings/polar2006/pdf/8047.pdf
SpaceListener
The true evidence of some kind of living is that it shows at least some kind of movement. That would be a much better life existence evidence than analyzing its past life.
djellison
QUOTE (nprev @ Aug 28 2007, 03:41 PM) *
culture solutions


So you don't like Joop's theory then smile.gif

Doug
AndyG
I don't like today's Space Daily's report of this under the headline "Calculating The Biomass Of Martian Soil". With regards to the report, that sounds rather <i>biased</i>.

Andy
djellison
That's not a report. When SpaceDaily say 'by Staff Writers' they actually mean the copying and pasting of a press release, in full, verbatim.

Here's the press release, as it was in my inbox on Aug 18th.

[]Subject : Calculating the Biomass of Martian Soil
Email : A new interpretation of data from NASA's Viking landers indicates that 0.1%
of the Martian soil tested could have a biological origin.

Dr Joop Houtkooper of the University of Giessen, Germany, believes that the
subfreezing, arid Martian surface could be home to organisms whose cells are
filled with a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water. In a presentation at
the European Planetary Science Congress in Potsdam .....[/I]

I don't think I need to carry on. Calling it reporting is like calling photocopying a work of art.

Doug
AlexBlackwell
QUOTE (djellison @ Aug 29 2007, 03:28 AM) *
That's not a report. When SpaceDaily say 'by Staff Writers' they actually mean the copying and pasting of a press release, in full, verbatim.

True enough, though SpaceDaily is by no means the only offender. Frankly, I've always thought this practice, widely accepted in the "space news" media, is not only misleading but borderline scuzzy.
nprev
QUOTE (djellison @ Aug 29 2007, 12:18 AM) *
So you don't like Joop's theory then smile.gif

Doug


Well, I figure that any bugs of that particular ilk would probably do a LOT of moving when the water hits them before they go to that Great Extreme Environment in the Sky, where H2O2 properly mixed in an exact ratio with H2O flows like, uh...water, without boiling away...better have a nice, fast real-time imager... cool.gif
dvandorn
QUOTE (AlexBlackwell @ Aug 29 2007, 12:47 PM) *
True enough, though SpaceDaily is by no means the only offender. Frankly, I've always thought this practice, widely accepted in the "space news" media, is not only misleading but borderline scuzzy.

It's a grand old tradition in just about every journalistic enterprise, unfortunately. I started out, back in nineteen-mumblety-mumble, as a journalism major and then as a reporter/editor/photographer for a small suburban newspaper chain near Chicago. About 40% of the "news" content of those things consisted of slightly re-written press releases. I spent more time rewriting them than most of the staff, since a vast majority of those who write the press releases have no journalistic training and write extremely poor news stories.

It happens everywhere, from the Oak Brook Press to the New York Times. Trust me.

-the other Doug
ElkGroveDan
QUOTE (dvandorn @ Aug 29 2007, 06:30 PM) *
a vast majority of those who write the press releases have no journalistic training and write extremely poor news stories.


watch it wink.gif
dvandorn
Oh, present company excepted, of course!

laugh.gif

-the other Doug
AlexBlackwell
QUOTE (dvandorn @ Aug 29 2007, 04:30 PM) *
About 40% of the "news" content of those things consisted of slightly re-written press releases.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the key description above is "slightly re-written." And I'm aware that this practice is widespread in the media as a whole, not just the space news outlets. Even re-writes are barely palatable, at least to me, but when news outlets post verbatim press releases in their web content, it's at the very least misleading. It's also inexcusable in this Age of the Internet when press releases are almost always online and can be simply linked rather than reproduced on one's own site. Frankly, the oft-repeated excuses that are trotted out to justify this practice (e.g., journalistic deadlines, poor writing of press releases, etc.) aren't convincing.

Perhaps my view is a bit prudish if not outdated, but it probably stems from academia, where even the slightest hint of "borrowing" or passing off other work as one's own is labeled plagiarism.
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