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Life on Mars

I’m going to go out on a limb here:

With the recent discovery of (evidence for) liquid water on the surface of Mars, there’s going to be life there.

My own personal hypothesis would be that it’s either going to be terrestrial life that was transported to Mars via rock ejected from Earth by the impact of past meteors or the other way around, an idea known as panspermia. One solid possibility would be Earth –> Mars via ejecta following the Chicxulub asteroid impact in Mexico. It is commonly thought that Mars may have been a much more hospitable place long ago, including large seas suggested by potassium-thorium-iron enriched areas visible by Gamma Ray Spectrometer. This enrichment may be explained as an accumulation deposited by liquid water on the surface of the planet.

A superimposition of gamma-ray data from Mars Odyssey's Gamma-Ray Spectrometer onto topographic data from the laser altimeter onboard the Mars Global Surveyor.

A superimposition of gamma-ray data from Mars Odyssey’s Gamma-Ray Spectrometer onto topographic data from the laser altimeter onboard the Mars Global Surveyor.

If this is correct, some residual bacteria-like organisms remaining from a more biotic history could have seeded Earth in a Chicxulub-like impact of Mars.

“Tetsuya Hara, et al, at Kyoto Sangyo University in Japan have calculated that a large amount of Earth landed on the Moon and Mars, but also on other planets that may be compatible with life—the Jovian moon, Europa, the Saturnian moon, Enceladus, and more surprisingly even planets like Earth orbiting other stars.” (from askwhy)

On porrible map of Chicxulub asteroid ejecta

On possible map of Chicxulub asteroid ejecta

Regardless of any relationship between the life of the two planets, I have to say that I’m firmly on the side of manifest destiny here. I completely understand the arguments against contaminating another planet with life from this one, but I don’t imagine a future without Earthlings spreading to the other planets of this solar system.

Without the need to transport masses of water, NASA (and other Terrestrial space agencies) may suddenly see a manned mission to Mars as imminently do-able. The question changes from could we go to should we go? What are our obligations if our presence there will disturb an extant biosystem?

Carl Sagan said “no.” It was his belief that any planet with indigenous life should be protected from human intrusion. Perhaps an inspiration for Star Trek’s Prime Directive.

On this issue, I would have to part with Sagan’s advice – perhaps on purely selfish grounds. I want humans to explore the heavens and I believe that a strict policy like this Prime Directive would prevent that forever.

If you are reading this, take a moment contribute your two bits.

If possible, should humans go to and possibly remain, on Mars?

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Is the Space Age over for the US?

I grew up in an age when the USA dominated space. The Apollo missions had put the first men on the moon and American kids everywhere were tasting victory with each sip of Tang.

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Good Dog. 

Read the story of Laika in the eponymous graphic Novel.

It didn’t matter that the Soviets had launched the first artificial satellite (Sputnik), the first animal to orbit the Earth (Laika), or the first man in space (Yuri Gagarin). I mean, really – out of the gate, the Russians (we never troubled ourselves to distinguish Russia from the Soviet Union in any way) were kicking our butts. Then the US turned the tide, and following a solid series of incremental achievements, sent not one, but six successful missions to the moon.

And, just to make sure the world knew it, we declared that landing on the moon was the endgame and we made it. We win. Game over. No other country has accomplished the same — yet.

For years NASA maintained a presence in space with the shuttle program, although it was less than evident what larger purpose these missions served before the international space station (ISS) came online. It’s easy to have objections to the way the shuttle program was run. The objectives never matched the clear progression that the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo missions illustrated.

Mercury:

  • To successfully orbit a manned spacecraft around Earth.
  • To investigate humankinds’ ability to function in space.
  • To recover both occupant and spacecraft.

Gemini:

  • Subject astronauts to long duration flights.
  • Perfect methods of reentry and landing the spacecraft.
  • Gain information concerning the effects of weightlessness on astronauts during long flights.

Apollo:

  • Demonstrate crew, space vehicle, and the mission support facilities during a manned lunar mission.
  • Evaluation of the LM performance in lunar orbit and the lunar environment.
  • Land a man on the moon and return him safely to the Earth
  • Gather lunar rocks and soil samples

Space Shuttle:

  • A reusable spacecraft
  • ???
  • Establish, man and supply a long-term space station

Then, in 2011, the last shuttle flight landed and The US is reduced to hitching rides to the ISS. As someone whose patriotic spirit is ignited by our collective will and ability to conquer big problems, I feel a real degree of shame that the US has relinquished its ability to make great strides into space. 

“What nationality was Christopher Columbus?”

“Spanish…right?”

“Might as well be. They were the one’s who made it happen.”

Like the Italians (or the Portuguese or the English), the US appears to be abdicating it’s power and allowing other nations to go forth as leaders.

ImageFortunately, this isn’t the end. If funding continues, the US is on track to construct its next space deliver vehicle, the Space Launch System, for its first launch in 2017. Perhaps you could call my position one of cautious optimism. 

The stated mission of the SLC with its Orion modules would be to:

  • capture an asteroid and bring it into high lunar orbit
  • Perform a manned flyby of Venus and Mars before returning to Earth in the early 2020s.
  • Establish a permanent or semi-permanent presence  on the moon.

I, for one, am keeping my fingers crossed that once clear, incremental objectives are established, we will re-commit to the exploration of spec in my lifetime.

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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“Life is nothing but an electron looking for a place to rest”

ImagePhysics -> Chemistry -> Biology

The Smithsonian Magazine has an article this week proposing that we consider Mars as the origin of Terrestrial Life. This notion stems from Steven Benner’s Four Paradoxes: The Tar Paradox, The Water Paradox, The Single Biopolymer Paradox and The Probability Paradox. Each of these is described in the abstract of his work, and do add up to a possible alternative for life’s origin. However, as compelling as his arguments may be, the origin of life will always be a mystery veiled in time. Even if we were to find evidence of life on Mars that is very much like that on Earth, it would be difficult to say whether Terrestrial life was the origin of Martian life, or vice versa.

Another problem I have with tracing the origins of life off-planet is that it does not solve anything, but merely relocates the source. So it’s not that I feel that Benner’s work is uninteresting or unworthy of consideration, but presently, Ockham’s razor precludes Imageseriously considering extra-terrestrial origins without a good deal more hard evidence. Further,  relocating the source or life’s origin does little to change how we think about  origins. Regardless or where life started, it is still highly probably that it began with RNA, a unique molecule in that even today it serves dual roles as an information-carrying molecule and a structural one that often has enzymatic function. And, that the addition of the more stable , DNA molecule as the primary source of information happened later – as adding protein synthesis also did for providing an alternative structural / functional molecule. 

Evolution of the Central Dogma?

                                                              RNA

                        DNA -> RNA                                                  RNA -> Protein

                                                  DNA -> RNA -> Protein

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Take a nice close look at the surface of Mars

Image

What is this rock made of?

Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True webiste uncovers a lot of gems on the internet. Recently, he posted a link to Nasa’s billion-pixel panoramic photo (composite) from the Curiosity rover. You can  take a close look at a great deal of Martian landscape using their viewer. Just below the panorama are links that will drag you to come intriguing places in the image (a shiny white object in the sand, what seriously looks like a Martian bird – I can’t stand not knowing what this really is, etc.) I also found a rock that the rover had broken open that exposed a shiny, light-colored interior (above).

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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