Imminent Discovery - Life on Mars
According to a paper to be presented at the 44th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference scheduled for March, 2013, NANOSIMS ANALYSIS OF ORGANIC CARBON FROM MARS: EVIDENCE FOR A BIOGENETIC ORIGIN.
by Y. Lin and others, "This is the first discovery of confirmed organic carbon deposited in fractures in a Martian rock." It comes from the Tissint meteorite recently arrived from Mars after being blasted off the red planet and drifting through space for hundreds of thousands of years.
I apologize to those who take offense at the title - I know this was not a race.
Here is the complete introduction to the paper which can be found at:
Introduction: Mars orbit and rover missions have brought us numerous lines of evidence for past or even extant existence of water on Mars. Studies of Martian meteorites, the only available rocks from Mars, also suggest a wet Mars at least in the early history. These observations promise discovery of life on Mars. However, there are few hints for existence of Martian life. Detection of methane in Martian atmosphere by the Mars Express orbiter  has revived exploration of life
on Mars. However, question of Martian methane is still up in the air . Tissint is a new witnessed Martian meteorite fall, supplying us with unique fresh samples to study the paleoenviroment and search for evidence of possible life on Mars. We find a carbon component in Tissint, filling fractures in silicates with another few inclusions in shock-induced melt veins. Laser micro-Raman spectra of the carbon component indicate a kerogen-like matter, similar to those reported in “magma inclusions” in other Martian meteorites . We analyzed the elemental ratios of H, N, O, F, Cl, S and P to C, and the isotopic compositions of C, N and H using the nanoSIMS 50L. The results clearly favor a biogenetic origin.
Congrats to the authors and their co-researchers!
Over the last few days (called sols on Mars) Curiosity has been studying the location called "John Klein". Features closely resembling microbial mats suggest that Mars was, and still is likely to be, a home for microbial life.
This image is from the "Atlas of Microbial Mat Features Preserved Within the Siliciclastic Rock Record", page 148, and is a microbial mat from a supratidal pond in southern Tunisa.
The next image is from Mars Curiosity, and is visible in those provided by the Front Hazard Avoidance cameras (and several other images from the Mast Camera and the Hand Lens Imager), over the sols 164-182. Many distinct features (lower portion of image below) closely resemble microbial mat features in the image from the microbial mat in Tunisa shown above.
The Mars Curiosity team has selected this area to take a drill sample and analyze it. The process include drilling test holes and observing the piles of rock grain to assure they are suitable for delivery into the analysis instruments (which have a fine mesh screen to strictly limit the input particle size.) This analysis may indicate if the sample contains complex organic molecules.
Unfortunately, the drill sample from the upper 2 cm will not make it into the analysis (according to a description of the drill operation), so, if this feature is truly a biological mat (living or desiccated), this analysis may not include the material most likely to contain organics. We wait to see what results are reported.
Comments and feedback appreciated!
Biosignatures link microorganisms to iron mineralization in a paleoaquifer
Concretions, preferentially cemented masses within sediments and sedimentary rocks, are records of sediment diagenesis and tracers of pore water chemistry. For over a century, rinded spheroidal structures that exhibit an Fe(III) oxide–rich exterior and Fe-poor core have been described as oxidation products of Fe(II) carbonate concretions. However, mechanisms governing Fe(III) oxide precipitation within these structures remain an enigma. Here we present chemical and morphological evidence of microbial biosignatures in association with Fe(III) oxides in the Fe(III) oxide–rich rind of spheroidal concretions collected from the Jurassic Navajo Sandstone (southwest United States), implicating a microbial role in Fe biomineralization. The amount of total organic carbon in the exterior Fe(III) oxides exceeded measured values in the friable interior. The mean δ13C value of organic carbon from the Fe(III) oxide–cemented exterior, δ13C of −20.55‰, is consistent with a biogenic signature from autotrophic bacteria. Scanning electron micrographs reveal microstructures consistent with bacterial size and morphology, including a twisted-stalk morphotype that resembled an Fe(II)-oxidizing microorganism, Gallionella sp. Nanoscale associations of Fe, O, C, and N with bacterial morphotypes demonstrate microorganisms associated with Fe(III) oxides. Together these results indicate that autotrophic microorganisms were present during Fe(III) oxide precipitation and present microbial catalysis as a mechanism of Fe(III) oxide concretion formation. Microbial biosignatures in rinded Fe(III) oxide–rich concretions within an exhumed, Quaternary aquifer has broad implications for detection of life within the geological record on Earth as well as other Fe-rich rocky planets such as Mars, where both Fe(II) carbonate and Fe(III) oxide–rich concretions have been identified.
- Received 28 November 2011.
- Revision received 8 March 2012.
- Accepted 12 March 2012.
- © 2012 Geological Society of America
With all of the recent discoveries which dramatically raise the probability of indigenous life on Mars, such as methane and increased levels of water ice, does the risk of sending a titanium "hockey puck" full of microbes towards Mars still make sense? The LIFE experiment is a contribution of the Planetary Society to the Russian Phobos-Grunt sample return mission launching to the Mars moon Phobos in 2011. The LIFE experiment, described more fully on the Planetary Society's web page, contains various types of microbes and is intended for return to earth, the goal being to demonstrate interplanetary transfer of life by meteor. Interplanetary transfer of life by meteor is one of the transport mechanisms included in the "panspermia" or "transpermia" theories. Although these theories certainly deserve investigation, the contamination risk of sending a container of microbes towards Mars, before indigenous life was discovered there, has come into question.
NASA Planetary Protection officer Catherine Conley made a comment on this risk in an article on Space.com (7 January 2009). According to the article:
"The Phobos-Grunt mission intends to meet orbital lifetime requirements, so by COSPAR policy there is no official limit on the number of organisms the spacecraft may carry," Conley advised. Sending pure cultures of organisms that could not possibly survive on Mars, she added, would pose minimal contamination hazard, and that includes most organisms relevant to human exploration.
"However, I am uncomfortable sending native tundra samples so close to Mars, because this is a location on Earth that could possibly contain organisms capable of adapting to Martian conditions," and to do so "seems ill-advised" Conley told Space.com."
I would like to collect comments from all interested individuals as to the risks of performing this experiment (i.e, ., what would be the impact on science if the container of microbes was lost in the vicinity of Mars), vs. the rewards of a successful experiment (i.e., the container of microbes is returned intact to earth).
The goal of this site is to create a "time capsule" of the thoughts of mankind prior to the discovery of life on Mars, so we are accepting comments to get a cross-section of opinions on relevant issues. The contamination risk of sending a container of microbes towards Mars is certainly an issue that future generations may question. Do You? One of the past proponents of life on Mars was astronomer Earl Slipher. He spent his lifetime photographing seasonal surface and atmospheric changes on Mars. In celebration of his effort, we are happy to award one copy of his 1962 book "Mars, The Photographic Story" to the author of one comment drawn at random. Four other random selections will receive one copy each of "Imminent Discovery". One comment per person is eligible for the drawing, and please limit comments to 200 words or less. Drawing void where prohibited or restricted by law. The drawing will be held January 31, 2010.
Thousands of amateurs were disappointed by the lack of an observable plume from the impact of LCROSS on the moon. I don't blame you - the mission was hyped so that an amateur with a telescope as small as a 10 inch was expecting something. The images from the observatory telescopes were expected to be impressive, but also showed nothing. But, all is not lost. The mission will still produce valuable data, and the lack of a spectacular impact plume shouldn't overshadow two other recently published discoveries - water on the moon and ground ice on Mars!
According to the abstract for the paper: "Distribution of Mid-Latitude Ground ice on Mars from New Impact Craters", in the Sept 25th issue of SCIENCE,
"New impact craters at five sites in the martian mid-latitudes excavated material from depths of decimeters that has brightness and color indicative of water ice. Near-infrared spectra of the largest example confirm this composition...."
So, does additional evidence of widespread water ice increase the chances for life on Mars today? The existence of water ice on Mars has had to fight a battle against the "frozen carbon dioxide" crowd for decades, but it finally appears to be true without question. Since we have been playing "Follow the Water" in our search for life on Mars, isn't it time that we make a more intensive search for life there? What will be the most important discovery in the history of science - Life off the Earth - shouldn't be derailed by ambiguous results from the pair of Viking probes over 3 decades ago. According to the paper (above), water ice existed only "slightly deeper" than Viking excavated to. If Viking couldn't detect extensive ground ice just a few centimeters deeper than it looked, how thoroughly could it have really looked for microbial life at the martian soil-ice boundary?
Feel free to comment. 2 copies of "Imminent Discovery" will be awarded by random drawing of the comments received by January 31, 2010 (void where regulated by law, one comment per person is eligible for the drawing).
Thanks to all those who submitted comments to this blog site. The drawing in celebration of the Phoenix landing has been completed, and the winners are being notified. The winner of the 1962 Slipher book "MARS, The Photographic Story", is Joe. L. , and the winners of the book "Imminent Discovery", by Thomas Dehel, are Joyce. B., George H., Tom W., Steven R., and Rick S.
Thanks again for participating. Please feel free to continue to post comments. I will open new categories from time to time, especially as new interesting efforts draw near. One particular effort of note is the LCROSS mission to impact near the South Pole of the moon to verify the existence of near-surface ice. The impact is scheduled to take place October 2009. Why is this result related to life on Mars? See page 142 of "Imminent Discovery", in the paragraph titled "Conclusion":
"...the nearest extraterrestrial life may be found as frozen, ice covered spores in the permanent shadows of our own moon."
If the moon's permanently shadowed craters near the South Pole are found to have ice, it will be very interesting to see what's frozen inside. If life was found there (even a few frozen spores), then it certainly exists on Mars!
Liquid water has been found on Mars - the Phoenix lander inadvertently melted the ice and splashed droplets onto its own landing strut. The discovery paper can be viewed here:
If you'd like to leave a comment here (or immediately below, regarding methane), you'll get a chance for one of the cool books as described in the methane topic below. Void where prohibited by law, and one comment per person is entered into the random drawing. For as historic as this discovery is, I'm surprised there's not more press coverage. With water and seasonal methane just discovered, how long until the big discovery is made - life on Mars!
The most exciting news in a long time is that there is seasonal methane appearing in at least some areas on Mars, including Syrtis Major. Methane cannot survive long in the atmosphere of Mars, so the question is - is this methane produced by some geologic source, or some biologic source? If it is biologic, it is the first solid scientific proof announced that would indicate life on Mars. If so, this is truly an historic event. The authors of "Imminent Discovery" had hoped last year that Phoenix would make an historic discovery; even though this discovery is not by Phoenix, it is still very historic. To celebrate the news, the authors of "Imminent Discovery" would like to give away one well-worn copy of the unique and valuable 1962 book "MARS, The Photographic Story" by dedicated Mars astronomer Earl Slipher, and five copies of the book "Imminent Discovery". The books will be given away by random drawing based on the comments received in this section (one comment per person will be entered in the drawing....void where prohibited by law). So, what do you think - does the methane on Mars represent a biologic or geologic source? Is there life on Mars? The drawing will be held on the anniversary of the day Phoenix landed on Mars (May 25th).
Jan 2009: For what must be either the second or third time in the last 40 years, methane has been discovered in the atmosphere of Mars! The book "Imminent Discovery" nailed this one right on the head - see pages 74 and 75 of the May 2008 edition. Methane is a real sign of life, although there are some geologic processes that produce it. Since it cannot persist in the planet's atmosphere for more than about 300 years, it must have been produced or released on Mars very recently. And on a planet such as Mars with no sign of active geologic processes, life is strongly suggested. The big surprise in this most recent announcement, however, is that the methane appears on Mars seasonally!! Earl Slipher and the other early astronomers noted other seasonal changes on Mars - namely the "wave of darkening" that was thought to be plant life. This discovery of seasonal methane release is one huge step closer to one of the most important discoveries that mankind will ever make - is there life off the earth? Fantastic!!
Phoenix has at last gotten some regolith into the TEGA oven. Does it contain any evidence of water? Organic chemistry? What is causing the unexpected soil cohesion? Hopefully we will all hear soon.