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SCI/TECH: Life on Mars? Could Be, But How Will They Tell?

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posted on Mar, 28 2005 @ 11:49 PM
The possibility of life on Mars has long been an area of interest for scientists and UFO buffs alike. In 1996, scientists discovered what appeared to be organic formations, bacteria, and other such fossils in a meteorite that fell in Antartica. Since this discovery, interest in the possibility of life on Mars has grown. How will scientists be able to discover life, however? Scientists at Carnegie Melon have been working with scientists for SETI and NASA to devlop a means of detecting possible microscopic life both on and below the surface of Mars. The core of the system is a flourescent dye that glows under a xenon lamp in the prescence of organic matter. Recent tests using a robotic rover named Zoe (after the Greek word for life) in the Atacama Desert (one of the dryest locations on Earth, often used as a stand-in for Mars), have provided great results pointing towards the success of the system.
To simulate a real mission, a second team of scientists led by Dr. Nathalie A. Cabrol, a planetary geologist at the SETI Institute and NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., gathered in Pittsburgh. The scientists there acted as mission control, reviewing images and data collected by Zoë and deciding what it should do next.

While Zoë possessed the intelligence to roam at speeds up to 2 miles an hour, its operations were not completely autonomous. For one, Dr. Waggoner and others had to follow the rover around and squirt the fluorescent dyes onto the rocks as needed when the scientists in Pittsburgh found a rock that they thought merited closer analysis.

Once the dyes soaked in, a xenon lamp on Zoë's underside flashed. If DNA, proteins or chlorophyll, which is naturally fluorescent, were present, they would glow, their presence captured by a digital camera and radioed back to Pittsburgh.

After Zoë finished its work, the trailing scientists collected rock and soil samples to verify the rover's examination. In moister areas along the coast, Zoë successfully found lichens on rocks. In a drier area, Zoë reported DNA and proteins on seemingly barren rocks. Later, scientists were able to cultivate bacteria from those rocks.

Please visit the link provided for the complete story.

While tests seem to be quite capable of detecting microscopic life on Mars, delivery of a complete system to administer these tests still needs a little work. Since the Zoe robot has proven successful, this will probably be the means used to administer the tests. However, Zoe still needs to be outfitted with a spray system to apply the dyes as well as a means of drilling, tunneling, or otherwise burrowing beneath the Martian landscape to test for subterrainean life.

Hopefully, results of these tests will finally put to rest the arguments of the existence of extra-terrestrial life, and instead limit it to the debate of the levels of evolution achieved by extra-terrestrial life.

It is not believed that life on Mars, if it exists, has evolved much beyond the bacterial stage.

Interestingly enough, the scientific community seems to support the idea that Mars at least once supported life, if it doesn't still:

In an informal poll taken last month at a conference in the Netherlands, three-quarters of 250 scientists working on the European Space Agency's Mars Express mission said they believed Mars once possessed conditions hospitable to life. One quarter believe it still does.

posted on Mar, 28 2005 @ 11:55 PM
This is actually a more difficult question than one might think. Finding microscopic fossils of tiny bacteria would be easy compared to some of the real difficulties to identifiying truly alien life.

If nothing else, what if a virus was found? Viruses aren't considered alive by a lot of people. Prions also aren't considered alive. I'd agree that they both indicate life exists even if they aren't alive, but the point is, heck, man can't even indentify what's alive on his own planet. Imagine the bizzare and unfamiliar possibilities out there.

posted on Mar, 29 2005 @ 01:18 PM
There will be no universal acceptance of life on Mars, until it actually waves and says "Hi, Mom!" thru the probe cameras.

Too much politics in science these days, too much intramural fighting for funding, too many scientists like little kids or corporate drones, needing to step on someone else to get ahead.

A lot like American politics. Choose your side (party) and do/say whatever you can to discredit the other camp. Doesn't matter if you know they are right on an issue, berate it and deny it anyways. And don't do something that the other party mentioned, even if it makes sense, because it'll get out that you used their idea, and that'll get them more funding (votes).

Until this us vs. them paradigm in humanity is resolved, we're stagnated and screwed. In nations, in economy, in environment, you name it.

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