On April 28th last Wednesday, The Sun of the UK, published an article about a NASA source claiming there was evidence for life on Mars (they have since taken it out). However, it didn’t take NASA long to print a disclaimer:
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.
“I can only assume that the Sun reporter misunderstood,” said Cornell University planetary scientist Steve Squyres, principal investigator of the Mars Exploration Rover project, who was quoted in the story. “What Spirit and Opportunity have found is sulfate minerals… not organic materials, not pond scum, and not the building blocks of life as we know it.
Hmm..did Dr. Squyres get carried away in the interview, or did the tabloid ‘Sun’ do what all tabloids do, stretch a “might be” into a “fer sure?”
Now here’s something NASA can handle; finding life on Earth:
If alien life is ever discovered, scientists expect it will most likely be of the simple, microbial variety. And now they’ve found some serious signs of such life, right here on Earth. And the clues and the methodology could help researchers find life on Jupiter’s moon Europa.
In a pair of images released today — one from NASA’s EO-1 satellite and a closer one taken from a helicopter — NASA researchers explained their examination of a glacier-carved valley that is like none other on Earth. The spot, high in the Canadian Arctic on Ellesmere Island, is called Borup Fiord Pass. It is the only known place on our planet where sulfur from a natural spring is deposited over ice.
The sulfur leaves a pale yellow stain on the ice, and scientists say it’s a clear sign of biological activity.
The sulfur stain, clearly visible in the helicopter image, is not visible by regular satellite photography. But another sensor on the satellite, called Hyperion, makes measurements in wavelengths of light we can’t see. Using this hyperspectral data from Hyperion scientists were able to map the location of sulfur deposits. In effect, they’ve seen clear signs of life from space.
What they learn from all this may help us find life elsewhere in the solar system, according to a statement from NASA.
All kidding aside, the last statement is true in that these techniques would be useful for finding primitive life on Europa, Titan and Enceladus.
Nice, safe, microbial life. No large invading fleets there.