Sunday, November 25, 2012

Have we found life on Mars?

I don't know. We thought we might have before, and it disappointed (although some suggest we did find life before - the evidence is clearly too sketchy to get excited either way).

But in case you didn't hear, NASA's Curiosity had a big find that NASA is keeping secret as it tests and retests the data. They don't seem interested in managing expectations at all, announcing that "this data is gonna be for the history books". That's quite a statement, isn't it? More conservative guesses are that it's organic material in the soil. I found this passage from that article interesting:

"Whatever Curiosity has found, it is not evidence for life on Mars. It can't be. Curiosity is not designed to look for life. Grotzinger has stated this himself. In a NASA video about the mission, he says, "Curiosity is not a life detection mission. We're not actually looking for life; we don't have the ability to detect life if it was there."

What if they brushed dirt off a small fossil? What if a little bug crawled across the screen and Curiosity followed it back to a Martian ant hill? Or lichen on a rock? "Not designed to look for life"? What an unimaginative way of thinking about things. They mean, of course, that it isn't equipped to identify microbial life in soil. But Mars is a big planet, and even if most of it is blighted and uninhabitable that doesn't mean Curiosity couldn't have stumbled on something previous probes missed.

Of course, it probably isn't life. It probably found the sorts of things it was sent to find. That's where the smart money is. But "for the history books" is an intriguing turn of phrase, and I'll be waiting expectantly until they announce exactly what we've got here.

So what do you think:

1. Will we hear in a couple weeks that there is life on Mars right now?
2. How will that change the way people thinking about their place in the universe?

1 comment:

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