Thursday, September 30, 2004

"After the Martian Apocalypse" Feature Story

A local magazine has published a story on my book, available online here.

Monday, September 27, 2004

(Our) Artifacts on Mars

Malin Space Science Systems has posted a high-resolution image of no-kidding artifacts on Mars. However, they're ours . . .

Germany to Mars?

Private Mars Mission Planned For 2009

Good luck reading the German-to-English auto-translation. Yikes.

And no, the proposed mission is not manned.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Cydonia Quest on Martian Biological Controversy

The "Abstract" Battle for Life on Mars

"There is therefore scope for there to be a symbiotic ecosystem of methanogenic and methanothrophic bacteria under the Martian surface. The methanogens produce the methane and formaldehyde that the methanothrops require. The methanothrops mop up the methane and formaldehyde that would otherwise poison the methanogens. The efficiency of such a system may be such that very little of the methane produced by the methanogens leaves the ground. There may therefore be much more than a few 'oases' of bacterial life on Mars as suggested by Krasnopolsky."

Bob Harrison (Cydonia Quest) offers a welcome summary of the recent political battle over the interpretation of methane and formaldehyde detected in Mars' atmosphere.

The chemical evidence, as Harrison points out, suggests "oases" of Martian life. If this is the case, then much of Mars may indeed be sterile, consistent with JPL's portrait of the planet. Perhaps anomalous formations such as Arthur C. Clarke's "banyan trees" and Greg Orme's "Martian spiders" are examples of such localized biological activity.

Methane = Life?

Detection of methane in the martian atmosphere: evidence for life?

"Outgassing from Mars is weak, the latest volcanism is at least 10 million years old, and thermal emission imaging from the Mars Odyssey orbiter does not reveal any hot spots on Mars. Hydrothermal systems can hardly be warmer than the room temperature at which production of methane is very low in terrestrial waters. Therefore a significant production of hydrothermal and magmatic methane is not very likely on Mars."

I love sober scientific abstracts. The sentence above is essentially a "polite" way of saying "Atmospheric methane on Mars can only be coming from an active biosphere."

Friday, September 24, 2004

Spirit and Opportunity to Keep Exploring

Mars rovers' mission extended

"'Although Spirit and Opportunity are well past warranty, they are showing few signs of wearing out,' project manager Jim Erickson said in a statement. 'We really don't know how long they will keep working, whether days or months. We will do our best to continue getting the maximum possible benefit from these great national resources.'"

While this is certainly good news, I personally find it doubtful that the Mars Exploration Rovers will tell us anything essentially new or unexpected about the Martian surface.

Not that they weren't presented with the opportunity; almost immediately after landing, the Spirit rover, still atop its platform, photographed an intriguing surface feature MER scientists termed the "Magic Carpet." There was good reason to suspect the Magic Carpet owed its unusual appearance to liquid water just beneath the Martian surface's dusty red veneer.

Although admittedly baffled, JPL steered clear of the Magic Carpet. This "anomaly avoidance" policy has continued throughout the rovers' missions. Rocks are fair game for study while structures insinuating the existence of water or life (past or present) are studiously circumvented (literally and otherwise).

With the discovery of methane (and probable ammonia) in Mars' atmosphere, JPL's aversion to conducting life science on Mars becomes increasingly untenable. A six-month extended mission could be what it takes for JPL to treat its adopted planet with the fair-mindedness it deserves.

In the meantime, evidence of atmospheric "biomarkers" rages. The official announcement of life on the Red Planet may well be imminent, hastened by the European Space Agency's Mars Express mission.