Search For Martian Life Continues

Speaking of “the latest science,” NASA reported Sunday that the Mars Phoenix Lander had landed in the northern hemisphere of the red planet and was beginning to send new photos of the Martian terrain to expectant scientists.

CNN reports
that

[t]he Phoenix’s 90-day mission is to analyze the soils and permafrost of Mars’ arctic tundra for signs of past or present life. The lander is equipped with a robotic arm capable of scooping up ice and dirt to look for organic evidence that life once existed there, or even exists now.

It is much too early to expect any new information about life on Mars but a prediction of future findings, and subsequent news reports, is not too difficult to make. I will go on record as predicting that within a few weeks, or months at most, we will see headlines proclaiming the tantalizing discovery of evidence that life once existed on Mars. The evidence will not be conclusive, but will be just enough to merit further research and investigations. That will not keep some “scientists” from making grand pronouncements and predictions of future discoveries of life, never mind that there is little to no evidence for such wild speculation. Only a few years later will research confirm that the early reports of life having been discovered on Mars were exaggerated and unwarranted by the evidence.

How can I be so confident of my predictions? Well, we’ve seen it all before, haven’t we? Beginning with the Mariner 4 mission to Mars in 1965 we were informed that the conditions (low barometric pressure, extreme temperatures, lack of magnetic fields, cosmic radiation, etc.) on the surface were incompatible with life excepting only some types of hardy bacteria. Further studies were needed. In 1976 Viking 1 was sent for the express purpose of investigating the soil for evidence of microorganisms. The presence of small amounts of carbon dioxide, methane and ammonia at first suggested the possibility of some bacterial form of life, but that was later disproved even though there have been scientists who maintain that life was indeed discovered by Viking 1. Those data are now being re-examined, but more data are needed.

In 1984 the discovery in Antarctica of ALH84110 piqued the imagination of scientists and lay persons alike with the finding of chains of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons within the rock found on the ice by explorers. It was believed to have been thrown from the surface of Mars millions or even billions of years ago and may have carried life from Mars to the then barren planet that was Earth (see Panspermia). Head lines were replete with giddy, almost hysterical announcements of

Life on Mars? New Scientific Evidence “(NYT):

Life from Mars: The Discovery

More Evidence that Mars Rock Shows Signs of Life

Evidence of Ancient Martian Life in Meteroite

And then serious scientists began to do what scientists do. They looked closely at the supposed meteorite from Mars and by the turn of the millennium headlines had changed:

After 10 Years, Few Believe Life on Mars

Life on Mars claims disputed” (BBC)

Lodestones, Not Life” (The Economist)

But there remained just enough doubt (and hope) that NASA decided to pursue the elusive grail of life on Mars. And so we have news today of the latest effort, Phoenix Lander. Watch for hopeful NASA press releases and exaggerated headlines.

Though never overtly stated, the irrevocable finding of life on Mars would be, in the minds of many, the crippling blow to “creationists” and their claims of the Bible’s authority and inerrancy especially as relates to Genesis. I haven’t figured out just how they come to that conclusion, but it is clearly their hope. Personally, the finding of life other than on the earth (especially microscopic life) poses no threat at all to my beliefs.

I doubt there will ever be conclusive incontrovertible proof of life on Mars (or anywhere other than the earth) except as described in the BIble, but one thing I am sure of, there will never be enough evidence to the contrary to discourage those searching for extraterrestrial life.

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