Monday, December 05, 2005

It's Mars, Jim, but not as we know it, etc

News excerpts, all about the decreasing likelihood of there having been an ocean on Mars (and therefore of there having been life on Mars), at least in the last 3.5 billion years, with my comments bold and in square brackets:

It's Mars, Jim, but not as we know it, ABC/Discovery News, Larry O'Hanlon... 1 December 2005 ... Everything you knew about Mars is wrong, or nearly everything, say European and US space scientists studying compelling new data from the Mars Express spacecraft. .... Mars Express is ... uncovering mineralogical signs that are making it much harder to argue that the Red Planet ever had large lakes or seas, and certainly not within the past 3.5 billion years. "We may have to revise some of the previous views," says Mars Express investigator Professor Gerhard Neukum ... "It wasn't so warm and not so wet in much of its time." ... Among the evidence against Martian seas is the now-confirmed absence of any telltale spectral signatures of water-formed carbonates on Mars' surface. Stranger, however, is the discovery that even in Mars' water-carved canyons there is no sign of water-made minerals, says Mars Express investigator Dr Jean-Pierre Bibring ... Instead, such minerals as clays, which require water to form, are found on odd patches in the cratered landscape, where rocks from Mars' earliest history may be exposed, says Bibring. ... [This lack of surface carbonates on Mars had been explained by the theory that, "If the seas of Mars were moderately acidic ... then carbonates could not have formed :

Mars, Once Warm and Wet, Left Some Clues,, Robert Roy Britt, 22 September 2004 ...A new theory about ancient Mars puts some fizz back in the idea that the red planet was once warm, wet and potentially habitable. Many studies have suggested that early Mars was covered by large oceans and blanketed by a thick atmosphere rich in carbon dioxide -- the stuff that puts the bubbly zing in soda. But if that's all true, then when the oceans evaporated a lot of the carbon dioxide should have turned into what scientists call carbonates, which should be strewn all over the place. Problem is, the carbonates aren't there. One recent study found trace amounts in Martian dust, just enough to conclude that Mars probably didn't have vast oceans. The new model provides a way around this problem. It suggests the chemistry of Martian seas was different than has been assumed, so the clues have been missed. If the seas of Mars were moderately acidic -- in scientific terms, a pH under 6 instead of the pH of 8 common to terrestrial oceans -- then carbonates could not have formed ...
But "the discovery that even in Mars' water-carved canyons there is no sign of water-made minerals", makes that explanation even more implausible.]

Radar sees ice deep below Mars, BBC, 30 November 2005 ... Two radar passes revealed a buried Martian impact basin Mars Express has become the first spacecraft to detect reserves of water ice deep beneath the surface of the Red Planet, experts have announced. The Marsis radar experiment carried onboard appears to have discovered water ice more than 1km below ground. It is thought the greatest reservoir of retained water on Mars could be found beneath the surface, perhaps providing a habitat for microbial life. ... [Jim Lovelock (of Gaia fame), showed in the 1960s why there is no existing life on Mars, its "atmosphere ... is inert and must therefore ... signify a dead planet" so "there was no need to go to all the trouble and expense of sending a probe to Mars [in the 1970s] to make these subtle tests":

"Lovelock tells how the realization came to him as a flash of insight in 1965, when he was working for NASA, designing instruments that would eventually be used by the Viking Mars probes to sniff the Martian air and look for traces of life products. He saw that there was no need to go to all the trouble and expense of sending a probe to Mars to make these subtle tests, because astronomers already knew that the atmosphere of Mars is inert and must therefore, he reasoned, signify a dead planet ... The fact that the Earth has an atmosphere rich in oxygen, full of chemical potential energy and highly reactive, is a sign that something out of the ordinary, in chemical terms, is happening on our planet. If the atmosphere of Mars resembles exhaust gases from an internal combustion engine, the atmosphere of the Earth resembles (in fact, in large measure it is) the mixture of gases that goes into such an engine. But this is only possible because plants can steal energy from the Sun. ... So a visitor from another star, entering our Solar System, could use a simple spectroscope to investigate the atmospheres of the planets, and conclude that while Venus and Mars, which both have carbon dioxide atmospheres, do not have life, Earth, with its oxygen-rich atmosphere, must have life. In the mid-1960s, Lovelock's view met with a cool response. If it had been taken seriously, it would have pulled the rug from under the whole Viking project. After all, the main purpose of the project was to look for life on Mars, and Lovelock confidently asserted that there was no life on Mars. ... In 1977 the Viking landers confirmed that Mars was indeed as lifeless as Lovelock had predicted more than ten years previously." (Gribbin J., "In The Beginning: The Birth of the Living Universe," [1993], Penguin, London, 1994, reprint, pp.118, 120-121).
Presumably this latest generation of Mars probe scientists know all this? And if so, presumably now as then, "Lovelock's view [again met with a cool response" because "If it had been taken seriously, it would have pulled the rug from under the whole ... project"! So if now, as then, in order to extract the billions of dollars from the taxpayer to fund these latest Mars probes, the public is told that "the main purpose of the project was to look for life on Mars" and yet the scientists know (because of Lovelock's discovery ~30 years ago), "that there [is] no life on Mars", then how is that not a continuing massive fraud on the taxpayer?]

Reservoirs of Ice, but No Water, Found Deep Within Mars, Los Angeles Times, December 1, 2005, John Johnson Jr. ... Using sophisticated radar aboard the European Mars Express spacecraft, scientists have for the first time peered into the heart of Mars, uncovering ancient geological structures and reservoirs of ice more than a mile beneath the arid surface. "We're looking at the third dimension on Mars, something no other mission has done before," Agustin Chicarro ... said ... But the craft's radar, known as the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding, did not uncover any evidence of liquid water underground. "We certainly can say we observed a significant amount of subsurface water in the form of ice," said team member Jeffrey Plaut .... "But there's no current evidence yet for subsurface liquid water." The question of liquid water on Mars is key to determining whether some form of rudimentary life could have, or still might, exist on Mars. ... But polar temperatures plunge to minus 200 degrees Fahrenheit, too cold for any melting, even at great depths, and much too cold for any kind of life similar to that on Earth. But in the more temperate mid-latitudes, "you don't have to go too deep to have temperatures that would allow liquid," Plaut said in a telephone interview from Paris. The team's findings were presented in series of papers released this week by the journals Science and Nature. .... In the next year, controllers on Earth will be looking for the radar signature of liquid water in the temperate areas, where the atmospheric temperature can rise to 32 degrees. Other instruments aboard the spacecraft ... [are] depicting a planet that appears much less friendly to life than previously thought. ... "There was a very dramatic climate change from an early cold and wet planet to a colder and drier one," Chicarro said ... [That "in the temperate areas [of Mars] ... the atmospheric temperature can rise to 32 degrees [F]" is not as important for the survival of life on Mars as what it falls down to. If the last remaining possibility of life on Mars is deep below the surface, the cost of a drilling program to discover it would seem to be prohibitive. Anyway, if there still was existing life on Mars, even below the surface, there would be unmistakable evidence of that in its atmospheric gases, and it isn't.]

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
"Problems of Evolution"

"Our observer would further also reflect, that the maker of the watch before him, was, in truth and reality, the maker of every match produced from it; there being no difference (except that the latter manifests a more exquisite skill) between the making of another watch with his own hands by the mediation of files, laths, chisels, &c. and the disposing, fixing, and inserting, of these instruments, or of others equivalent to them, in the body of the watch already made, in such a manner, as to form a new watch in the course of the movements which he had given to the old one. It is only working by one set of tools, instead of another. The conclusion which the first examination of the watch, of its works, construction, and movement suggested, was, that it must have had, for the cause and author of that construction, an artificer, who understood its mechanism, and designed its use, This conclusion is invincible. A second examination presents us with a new discovery. The watch is found, in the course of its movement, to produce another watch, similar to itself: and not only so, but we perceive in it a system of organization, separately calculated for that purpose. What effect would this discovery have, or ought it to have, upon our former inference? What, as hath already been said, but to increase, beyond measure, our admiration of the skill, which had been employed in the formation of such a machine?" (Paley W., "Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature," [1802], St. Thomas Press: Houston TX, 1972, reprint, p.13. Emphasis original)

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