Friday, April 30, 2010

Life on Mars: Reality Check

Or, 'But I Read It in the Paper!'

"NASA: Claims of Life on Mars 'Positively False' " (April 29, 2010)

"Despite recent media reports that NASA found evidence for life on Mars, the U.S. space agency says proof that we are not alone is still a ways off.

"A Wednesday article in the U.K.'s 'The Sun' newspaper entitled, 'NASA: Evidence of Life on Mars,' reported that they agency had unveiled 'compelling evidence' for Martian organisms. But NASA officials and veteran Mars mission scientists say 'no.'

" 'This headline is extremely misleading,' said Dwayne Brown, a spokesman for NASA based at the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C. 'This makes it sound like we announced that we found life on Mars, and that is absolutely, positively false.'

"The piece claimed that the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which have been wheeling around the surface of the red planet since January 2004, found pond scum, which the paper calls 'the building blocks of life as we know it.'

" 'I think they have taken this stuff out of context,' Brown said.

"Such a discovery would truly have been groundbreaking, since pond scum, scientifically known as cyanobacteria, are actually a form of life themselves, not just building blocks for it...."

Oh, dear. I suppose the Sun reporter and editors should get points for enthusiasm and interest. Besides, with the sort of deadline pressure folks in the newspaper business have - still, that's a little like a sports announcer calling a one-base hit in the first inning a touchdown that won the game. (References to baseball and American 'football,' respectively.)

I suspect the NASA announcement will set off more conspiracy theories - Well, that can't be helped.

Why do I Deny That Life Could Exist on Mars?

Actually, I don't. It's (remotely) possible that we've already 'discovered' life on Mars - but haven't realized it yet. (Exploding Martians and the Viking Life Experiment, in "Life on Ceres? Could Be" (March 5, 2009))

What I'm quite certain of is that we haven't identified a living organism on Mars.

That would be news - and particularly in today's budget situation, NASA executives would be talking themselves hoarse in interviews, if their organization had found life on another planet. Even a Martian bacterium would be exciting.

Not-entirely-unrelated posts:
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