Saturday, January 17, 2009

Methane on Mars.

So, NASA are getting all excited about finding a large cloud of methane on Mars, claiming it likely to be the product of life. A corollary of this being that, if life has evolved there independently, it has quite likely evolved all across that universe where conditions permit; that it is a common thing.

This a
ppeals to my sense of reason: Earth is not the centre of the universe with the celestial spheres revolving around it, our biosphere is simply a product of time, chemical reactions and energy, and man is not the God-created reason for everything. Really, as our understanding of the universe grows, our position in it is no higher than that of a microbe locked in the Martian tundra. In fact, words like ‘position’ or maybe ‘purpose’ have no meaning at all.

However, now I’m going to be the skeleton at the wedding. First off I have a big problem with this idea that this methane is a product of life. Methane certainly is a product of life, just like it is a product of all sorts of other complex chemistries. I didn’t hear anyone shouting about life when it was revealed that Saturn’s moon Titan has methane weather systems, that it has methane clouds, rain, snow and sleet. Second off, I have a problem with the idea of independent evolution on Mars.

Do you remember that whole farrago of the Martian meteorite with what looked like microbes imbedded in it? Recently there have been claims that perhaps life spread here from Mars by ancient meteor collision, yet, they are no more valid than a claim that life was spread from Earth to Mars in the same way, which rather kills the idea of independent evolution. In fact, that idea is dead in the water for any life found within the Solar System - we’ll probably end up moving more towards the panspermia view…


Of course, in me the ugly cynic then raises his head over the parapet. NASA being a cash-hungry leaden bureaucracy, quite likely due to look very silly when James Hansen takes his inevitable fall, is now looking to the future. Certain words surface in my mind with tiresome inevitability, words like ‘new’ and ‘president’ and ‘funding’.

9 comments:

Peter said...

Surely it depends on your definition of life?

If you encompass slow rock moving entities who occasionally fart, then surely Mars is teaming with more life than Earth?

hutch0 said...

To be fair to NASA, they're not saying the methane is a product of biology. They've said there are only two reasons for the methane to be there - geochemistry and biology. If it's geochemistry it can either be a result of volcanoes or a process which involves rocks reacting with liquid water - both of which are pretty interesting discoveries.

vaudeviewgalor raandisisraisins said...

nobody wants to acknowledge the fartwings of Titan because it's too much like something from a ...buttock.

creating a beaurocracy for a fantasy is very profitable for a select few. this is just like the Iraq 'threat' and congresswoman diane feinstein's husband who landed some swell deals over there. or halliburton and all their 'destroy the world to make jobs' campaign.

NASA IS EVIL:
http://www.veoh.com/videos/v332217tCth2FrY

Neal Asher said...

That's supposing the rock entities don't exist here, Peter. Maybe that's what they found on that meteorite.

Hutch, what they're saying is 'Hey, don't forget us!' and they knew precisely how the media would run with it. Farting rocks are substantially less interesting, and the study of them less likely to be funded, than potential alien life.

Vaude, I'll check out that link anon.

hutch0 said...

I suppose they could be coy and say, "All we did was tell you about the science; it's not our fault how the media have reported it."
But fair point; they're a government agency like any other and they'll be getting nervous about the megatons of money being shovelled into the banks and the car manufacturers, and the timing of the announcement is suspiciously just right, just at the right moment not to be swamped by coverage of the inaguration.

Neal Asher said...

Fuck, I'm turning into a conspiracy theorist.

hutch0 said...

It's worse: you're turning me into one...

daniel said...

NASA always pull crap like this whenever a new term comes up, but i guess they have to do whatever they can to stop the haemorraging of their funding that has happened over the last years. if the US really wants to stay ahead in the space race they will need Orion, and that is mooted to be one of the first things on Obama's chopping block for NASA (although given how Obama is pro science etc. i personally can't see it).

Paul said...

I think this has been independently corroborated.

IT's an interesting development. Methane from non-biological sources is normally a result of volcanic activity. But Mars is thought to be volcanically inactive.

So it's possible that we have an unknown volcanic process going on or the outside possibility that methogenic bacteria are at work. Either way there is some interesting science to be done.