Space News, Discovery News (November 2, 2010)
"A team of scientists suspects that if there is life on Mars, it may look familiar.
" 'We think that if there is life on Mars, it could be related to us,' Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineer and scientist Christopher Carr told Discovery News.A team of scientists suspects that if there is life on Mars, it may look familiar.
"We think that if there is life on Mars, it could be related to us," Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineer and scientist Christopher Carr told Discovery News.
With NASA funding, Carr and colleagues at MIT are developing a prototype device to decode alien DNA, a project known as the Search for Extraterrestrial Genomes (SETG). They hope to fly an instrument as part of a joint NASA-European Space Agency mission to Mars slated to launch in 2018.With NASA funding, Carr and colleagues at MIT are developing a prototype device to decode alien DNA, a project known as the Search for Extraterrestrial Genomes (SETG). They hope to fly an instrument as part of a joint NASA-European Space Agency mission to Mars slated to launch in 2018...."
"...'If the DNA or RNA is as we know it, then we should be able to detect it with this instrument,' Carr said.
"He estimates Martian DNA could remain viable for about one million years or so underground, where it would be shielded from the harsh ultraviolet rays and space radiation that sterilize the planet's surface...."
"...The idea of looking for transplanted life stemmed from studies of meteorites from Mars that landed on Earth. Mars and Earth have swapped about a billion tons of rock over the years, Carr says, and experiments show that some hitch-hiking microbes can survive the journey....
"...'We would feel awfully silly if we spent a lot of time looking for something that was very different and didn't spend time looking for something that was very similar,' Carr said. 'Life could have arisen independently, but that is not the most likely scenario.'..."
There's good reason to think that tons of material have been swapped between Earth and Mars over the last few billion years. And we've found that life isn't nearly as delicately fragile as we thought it was: microbugs could have stuck to rocks and traveled from one planet to the other.
Then, there's the amino acids that fell from comets. Actually, the chemical components for life seem to be stockpiled in quite a few places. It's even possible that we'll find DNA on worlds that don't circle our star: not because ancient astronauts were careless with their garbage, but because "basic thermodynamic laws" encourage amino acids to combine in particular patterns. (April 8, 2009)
The Lemming thinks that it makes sense, looking for chemicals that are common to all life here on Earth - but not found in non-living things, unless left there by something alive. It's looking for something familiar - but doesn't assume that Martian life is nearly indistinguishable from what we've got here. Which may be why the Viking life experiments got such odd results.
And that's another topic.
- "Viking Life Experiments, Revisited"
(September 14, 2010)
- "Organic Compounds in Murchison Meteor: Lots of Them"
(February 16, 2010)
- "Another Hot Jupiter With Organic Compounds"
(October 21, 2009)
- "DNA - A Universal Pattern? Could Be"
(April 8, 2009)
- "Life on Ceres? Could Be"
(March 5, 2009)
- "Mars, Mostly"
- "A Serious Search for Other Worlds, Life, and - Maybe - Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence"
Chemists have known that quite a few chemicals - including the ones we're made of - are symmetrical, sort of like gloves. Or hands. In a way, your left hand is identical to your right: except that when you hold it with the palm up, fingers away from you, the thumb is on your left side. For your right hand, the thumb would be on the right.
There's a pretty good discussion of the idea in "Invitation to Organic Chemistry," A. William Johnson (1999): Google Books preview.
Eventually, I hope the medical and pharmaceutical folks will learn about this aspect of organic chemicals: and that's yet another topic.
Posts about symmetry and organic chemistry:
- "Sinister Bias in Life's Chemicals Linked to Supernovas"
(August 17, 2010)
- "Life's Sinister Origins: Comets?"
(September 29, 2009)
- "Left-Handed Life: Why are We So Sinister?"
(September 17, 2009)