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Is there life on Mars?


James Thomas Rook Jr.

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Wednesday's headline-making announcement from Italian scientists about a possible lake underneath the Martian south pole adds to a growing list of other worlds we believe have liquid water. But it also adds to a deepening mystery about what it all means – especially to us on this lonely Blue Planet teeming with life and strife.

About 70 percent of Earth’s surface is covered by water, most of it in oceans. The rest is found in rivers, lakes, frozen in glaciers, and inside the bodies of every known plant, animal, and micro-creature on the planet.

Life, it appears, is not possible without H2O – and for good reason. Among its many unique properties, water is an extraordinary solvent that greases the wheels of life’s biological machinery.

 

It’s exciting, therefore, whenever we discover evidence for liquid water “out there” somewhere. For instance, beneath the surfaces of Jupiter’s moon Europa or Saturn’s moon Enceladus, whose phenomenal geysers shoot more than 100 miles into the air. Some research suggests even lowly Pluto – demoted in 2006 to the status of a dwarf planet – harbors subterranean pockets of water, kept fluid by tidal forces from its five nearby moons.

Above all, there’s our storied neighbor Mars. It has polar caps – both north and south – made of regular and dry ice (i.e., frozen carbon dioxide). It also has surface features that look a lot like dry river beds, suggesting the elixir of life once flowed abundantly and freely there.

And now this latest headline: bright reflections detected by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express, a ground-penetrating-radar-equipped spacecraft that’s been orbiting the Red Planet since 2003. The Italian scientists interpret the signals to mean there’s a twelve-mile-wide lake of salty water several feet deep sloshing around one mile beneath the Martian surface.

Surely, this now raises the possibility that, at the very least, Little Green Microorganisms dwell there. After all, exotic, insanely hardy, methane-eating bacteria live in sub-glacial lakes in our own Antarctic.

Ah, if only it were that simple.

For starters, the inferred lake beneath the Martian south pole might be nothing more than an aquiver of sludge. Both brine and sludge produce bright radar signatures.

It’s also possible the reputed lake is just an optical illusion. NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is also equipped with ground-penetrating radar, has been circling Mars since 2006 and sees no reflections implying the existence of a subterranean lake.

Even if the announcement is substantiated by future missions – and I personally hope it is – water is not a smoking gun. Where there’s water, there’s not necessarily life.

Still, every alleged discovery of water on other worlds represents an invaluable experiment that tests the veracity of biology’s current notions about how life came about on Earth. If we keep racking up evidence for water out there, but no life, it will deal a serious blow to the belief in abiogenesis – that life arose from scratch in a primordial soup of ordinary, inorganic chemicals. That would be a big headline.

If, however, we do find life inhabiting far-flung, water-borne venues, it will strengthen the abiogenesis thesis. That, too, would be a huge headline.

It’d also be a very sobering one. Why? Because, if water and life do prove to be abundant throughout the cosmos, then we’ll be forced to ask: “Where, then, is everyone??”

It’s a question I addressed in a recent opinion piece and that leads to many disquieting possibilities. One of them is this: simple water-borne organisms that develop into complex, intelligent life forms inevitably self-destruct.

The late writer and futurist Sir Arthur C. Clark had that possibility in mind when he stated, “It has yet to be proven that intelligence has any survival value.”

With every passing year in our search for extraterrestrial water and life, we are getting closer to finding, if not outright proof, then a resolution to Clark’s assertion.

Shortly following a transmission sent by the Mars Express spacecraft verifying that its instruments had detected a subglacial lake a mile below the planet’s surface, the European Space Agency confirmed Thursday that the orbiter’s surface-penetrating radar had disturbed the eternal and unspeakable dreaming of an aeons-old, world-ravaging malevolence, waking it from its 500-million-year slumber in the underground Martian reservoir.

The abhorrent trans-dimensional beast then rose from the stygian depths of its lightless subaquatic lair, unleashing a hideous ululation that caused the red planet to fissure and burst into billions of molten fragments, an event recorded as a magnitude 18.5 quake by ESA scientists. The terror-struck astronauts of the International Space Station, evidently drained of their sanity by the sight of the accursed, star-spawned abomination, managed to inform ground control through increasingly incomprehensible transmissions that Earth’s moon had been devoured by the ravening behemoth before all communication with the crew was cut off suddenly and completely.

ESA administrators, initially optimistic about the discovery of liquid water on Mars and its positive implications for future colonization, changed their message to one of warning earlier today, shrieking barely comprehensible messages of doom as they clawed their living eyes from their sockets in a vain effort to escape contemplation of the vast horror descending upon the world at this very moment to drink our insignificant lives as it will one day drink the light of the stars.

Is intelligence ultimately a blessing or a curse? Surely, the answer will make for the biggest headline of all.

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Wednesday's headline-making announcement from Italian scientists about a possible lake underneath the Martian south pole adds to a growing list of other worlds we believe have liquid water. But it als

Jellyfish have lived for over 300 million years ... with no brain whatsoever. Perhaps there is hope for us.

Don't talk wet!!!

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5 hours ago, James Thomas Rook Jr. said:

With every passing year in our search for extraterrestrial water and life, we are getting closer to finding, if not outright proof, then a resolution to Clark’s assertion.

I must admit my confusion at the two different writing styles. Turns out that almost the entire post was a verbatim copy from the FoxNews article from the start, right up until the sentence just requoted (without attribution, I might add).

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2018/07/27/water-on-mars-does-sciences-theory-about-origin-life-hold-up.html  ]

Then you threw in a couple paragraphs just before the end from The Onion, of all places, before finishing with Michael Guillen's last sentence again:

  • With every passing year in our search for extraterrestrial water and life, we are getting closer to finding, if not outright proof, then a resolution to Clark’s assertion.
  • Is intelligence ultimately a blessing or a curse? Surely, the answer will make for the biggest headline of all.
  • Michael Guillen  Ph.D., former Emmy-winning ABC News Science Editor, taught physics at Harvard and is now president of Spectacular Science Productions. His thriller, "The Null Prophecy," was released in July, 2017. His upcoming book, "The End Of Life As We Know It: Ominous News From The Frontiers Of Science," is coming out October 16th.

The Onion article was where all this paragraph started:

  • Shortly following a transmission sent by the Mars Express spacecraft verifying that its instruments had detected a subglacial lake a mile below the planet’s surface, the European Space Agency confirmed Thursday that the orbiter’s surface-penetrating radar had disturbed the eternal and unspeakable dreaming of an aeons-old, world-ravaging malevolence, waking it from its 500-million-year slumber in the underground Martian reservoir.
  • etc. etc.  [ https://www.theonion.com/world-eating-leviathan-awoken-from-500-million-year-slu-1827928509 ]

 

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Yep:

I could not give it proper attribution ahead of time or it would have ruined the combination of straight news and Onion absurdity !

I used to tell "Shaggy Dog" stories ... the goal of which is to get the listener to completely believe the premise and get sucked into the story, so when I sprang the "punch line"  their heads would spin around on their necks ... uh... so to speak.

But people got used to me telling these tall tales, and would interrupt me with "Is that a true story?', which disrupted the whole thing, and I had to stop and answer "Well... um... no."

... at that point you lose your "straight man", and any peripheral audience.

I suppose comedy should be left to the professionals ... but hey .... sometimes a JW Insider type shows up late enough to complete the schtick, tip the waitresses, and exit ... stage left!

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