Extraterrestrial life Intelligent Design

Should we look for patterns of life, not chemical signatures, on Mars?

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A photo of one full lit side of Mars, showing the reddish brown color of its surface and a white spot on the southern side.

A science writer suggests that the search for life on Mars might include a search for evidence of processes associated with life, such as homochirality, “clustering” of molecular structures and masses, repeating molecular subunits, and differences between which isotope is preferred. A Martian life form might rely on a quite different metabolism from the ones found on Earth. All that said,

If life still exists, it’s most likely retreated far enough underground to be invisible to the type of orbiting instruments and rovers we’ve used to date. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Nor does the fact that so far we’ve not found any true signatures of ancient life provide much evidence that it didn’t exist. Even on Earth, traces of ancient life are rare and scattered.

If we someday find such traces, one of the mantras of science is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. In the case of life on Mars, JPL’s Allwood says that this means that “every single biological hypothesis you can come up with” is going to have to be ruled out before it is accepted. No ifs, buts, or maybes. Evidence of life on Mars will need absolute proof. Richard A. Lovett, “Is there life on Mars? Let’s assess the evidence” at Cosmos Magazine

Was it Hugh Ross who said that if we find fossilized life on Mars, chances are, it’ll have come from Earth? That’s at least possible if life started very early when the planets were not as firm. But how frustrating for those looking for genuine non-Earth life…

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See also: Still another take on They’re Out There In one suggested version, they might be Out There but we are not smart enough to recognize them.

They’ll always be out there as long as people have imaginations

National Geographic announces: We Are Not Alone

Okay but now one question: If none of those 47 planets has life, does that count as evidence against the proposition that “We Are Not Alone”? Does anything count as evidence against the proposition?


Tales of an invented god

10 Replies to “Should we look for patterns of life, not chemical signatures, on Mars?

  1. 1
    vmahuna says:

    OK, so Mars ain’t got van Allen Belts and its atmosphere was stripped away millions of years ago. So Life simply never had a chance on Mars. Yes, they might find evidence of some odd little extinct microbes, but Earth was designed and constructed for the specific purpose of being a home (THE Home?) for Life.
    I’m perfectly willing to accept there is Life somewhere else, but it will also be living on a planet VERY much like Earth. And orbiting a sun VERY much like Sol.
    The people who propose otherwise are simply REALLY deep into Science Fiction.

  2. 2
    Belfast says:

    I am not so sure.
    I remember reading about this Englishman who invented a machine that travelled into the future. The whole earth was now a kind of garden inhabited by feckless progressives who lived on fruit and who hid in the bushes. Underground lived brutes called Morlocks. You would think the planet was uninhabited if you flew by looking for signs of life, animal life anyway. Mr. Lovett might be on to something. I can’t remember if it was published in National Geographic or Cosmos as it was a long time ago that I read it.

  3. 3
    hazel says:

    H.G Wells “The Time Machine”, written in 1895. The first time travel science fiction story, and the origin of the phrase “time machine.”

  4. 4
    hazel says:

    P.S. I read it a few years ago, and didn’t think it was very good, but it was pioneering and provocative at the time.

  5. 5
    bornagain77 says:

    Aside from the wishful thinking of many who hope that life will eventually, someday, be found elsewhere in the universe, and aside from the misbegotten solace that some may try to find in imaginary tales from science fiction, we now have much scientific evidence indicating that the Earth is extremely unique in its ability to host life of any sort in this universe.

    Linked from Appendix C from Dr. Ross’s book, ‘Why the Universe Is the Way It Is’;
    Probability Estimates for the Features Required by Various Life Forms:
    Requirements to sustain bacteria for 90 days or less:
    Probability for occurrence of all 501 parameters approx. 10-614
    dependency factors estimate approx. 10^-303
    longevity requirements estimate approx. 10^22
    Probability for occurrence of all 501 parameters approx. 10^-333
    Maximum possible number of life support bodies in observable universe approx. 10^22
    Thus, less than 1 chance in 10^311 exists that even one such life-support body would occur anywhere in the universe without invoking divine miracles.

    Requirements to sustain unicellar life for three billion year:
    Probability for occurrence of all 676 parameters approx. 10^-859
    dependency factors estimate approx. 10^-303
    longevity requirements estimate approx. 10^22
    Probability for occurrence of all 676 parameters approx. 10^-578
    Maximum possible number of life support bodies in observable universe approx. 10^22
    Thus, less than 1 chance in 10^556 exists that even one such life-support body would occur anywhere in the universe without invoking divine miracle

    Requirements to sustain intelligent physical life:
    Probability for occurrence of all 816 parameters approx. 10^-1333
    dependency factors estimate approx. 10^-324
    longevity requirements estimate approx. 10^45
    Probability for occurrence of all 816 parameters approx. 10^-1054
    Maximum possible number of life support bodies in observable universe approx. 10^22
    Thus, less than 1 chance in 10^1032 exists that even one such life-support body would occur anywhere in the universe without invoking divine miracle

    Moreover, the CMBR itself now reveals teleology, (i.e. a goal directed purpose, a plan), that specifically included the earth from the start.

    Cosmic Microwave Background Proves Intelligent Design (disproves Copernican principle) (clip of “The Principle”) – video

    ,,, The earth, from what our best science can now tell us, is not some random cosmic fluke as atheists presuppose but was intended to host life from the very start of the universe.

    Genesis 1:1
    In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

    For me personally, and I would hope for the vast majority of other people living here on earth, the far more important question is not the question of “Is there life on other planets?”, but is the question of ‘Is there life after death?”

    After all, the second law of thermodynamics is universal and thus any other life in this universe would also be ultimately subject to death just as we are.

    “We have the sober scientific certainty that the heavens and earth shall ‘wax old as doth a garment’….
    Dark indeed would be the prospects of the human race if unilluminated by that light which reveals ‘new heavens and a new earth.’”
    Sir William Thomson, Lord Kelvin (1824 – 1907) – pioneer in many different fields, particularly electromagnetism and thermodynamics.

    So any hope placed in finding life ‘out there somewhere’ would only be a misbegotten hope since it still would not address the primary question of our own ultimate demise and the ultimate demise of all biological life that, capital “MIGHT’, exist elsewhere in this universe.

    Thus, while life elsewhere in the universe is certainly a very interesting question, if atheism is true, it is, like all other questions, a completely pointless question. As Dr. Craig has pointed out, any attempt to derive any real meaning, value, and purpose, for life, minus God and an afterlife, is a futile act in self delusion:

    The Absurdity of Life without God – William Lane Craig
    Excerpt: Meaning of Life
    First, the area of meaning. We saw that without God, life has no meaning. Yet (atheistic) philosophers continue to live as though life does have meaning. For example, Sartre argued that one may create meaning for his life by freely choosing to follow a certain course of action. Sartre himself chose Marxism.
    Now this is utterly inconsistent. It is inconsistent to say life is objectively absurd and then to say one may create meaning for his life. If life is really absurd, then man is trapped in the lower story. To try to create meaning in life represents a leap to the upper story. But Sartre has no basis for this leap. Without God, there can be no objective meaning in life. Sartre’s program is actually an exercise in self-delusion. Sartre is really saying, “Let’s pretend the universe has meaning.” And this is just fooling ourselves.
    The point is this: if God does not exist, then life is objectively meaningless; but man cannot live consistently and happily knowing that life is meaningless; so in order to be happy he pretends life has meaning. But this is, of course, entirely inconsistent—for without God, man and the universe are without any real significance.

    Atheistic Materialism vs Meaning, Value, and Purpose in Our Lives – video

    I think this former atheist does an excellent job of capturing the sheer nihilistic pointlessness of life in this universe if atheism is true and if there is no life after death.

    Atheism Was An “Error”: English Professor & Atheist Mark Bauerlein Converts to Christianity – March 8, 2019
    Excerpt: But no matter how profound Freud and Nietzsche could be in their writings they couldn’t save Bauerlein from approaching despair,
    I shut my eyes and the walls closed in. That I was destined to join the nothingness that I spied in the bush was an intolerable prospect, an unthinkable thought. My mind was stuck on eternal death,” “I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it, this can’t be happening.”
    But unlike what some atheists would claim, namely how rejecting belief in God and religion is both liberating and desirable, “The discovery didn’t free me, it crushed me. The universe was open, but my life was closed. Others might take the disappearance of God as liberating, a chance to forge their own future, but not me. Whatever plan I might commence, whatever identity I might pursue, it shrank to pointlessness beside the yardstick of boundless nothingness.
    I understood my atheism as an achievement, but it didn’t inspire any further achievements. My only creative impetus was to dramatize my own condition, my only critical one to despiritualize everyone else’s.,,,
    Bauerlein is brave to admit and share with others that he regretted his many years as an atheist “for three decades afterward I felt it to be binding truth, but at fifty-three years of age, I now see it as error, an unfortunate one whose cost to me was an anti-spiritual, depleted existence through the prime of my life.

    Thus, in order to hopefully escape this bottomless pit of nihilism that is inherent in the atheist’s worldview, what we need to find out is not to find out whether life exists elsewhere in this universe or not but is to find out whether God exists or not and to find out whether there is indeed life after death or not.

    And indeed advances in science have been very helpful in answering these specific questions. As to the question of whether God exists or not, many lines of scientific evidence, such as the transcendent origin and fine tuning of the universe, etc.., can be brought to bear strongly indicating that God does indeed exist. And while that scientific evidence is certainly very good, for me personally, the most powerful piece of evidence that God does indeed exist is the recent closing of the ‘free-will loop hole’ within quantum mechanics:

    Feb. 2019 – Anton Zeilinger and company have now (2018) pushed the “free-will loophole” back to 7.8 billion years ago using quasars to determine measurement settings.

    Free will is a entirely Theistic presupposition that simply can find no grounding within atheism. In fact, free will is a foundational defining attribute of a immaterial mind, i.e. of agent causality, that is completely antithetical to the methodological naturalism that undergirds the atheist’s entire materialistic worldview:

    Do You Like SETI? Fine, Then Let’s Dump Methodological Naturalism – Paul Nelson – September 24, 2014
    Excerpt: “Epistemology — how we know — and ontology — what exists — are both affected by methodological naturalism (MN). If we say, “We cannot know that a mind caused x,” laying down an epistemological boundary defined by MN, then our ontology comprising real causes for x won’t include minds.
    MN entails an ontology in which minds are the consequence of physics, and thus, can only be placeholders for a more detailed causal account in which physics is the only (ultimate) actor. You didn’t write your email to me. Physics did, and informed (the illusion of) you of that event after the fact.
    “That’s crazy,” you reply, “I certainly did write my email.” Okay, then — to what does the pronoun “I” in that sentence refer?
    Your personal agency; your mind. Are you supernatural?,,,
    You are certainly an intelligent cause, however, and your intelligence does not collapse into physics. (If it does collapse — i.e., can be reduced without explanatory loss — we haven’t the faintest idea how, which amounts to the same thing.) To explain the effects you bring about in the world — such as your email, a real pattern — we must refer to you as a unique agent.,,,
    some feature of “intelligence” must be irreducible to physics, because otherwise we’re back to physics versus physics, and there’s nothing for SETI to look for.”,,,

    Thus, the closing of the free will loop hole in Quantum Mechanics pretty much directly proves with experimentation that the Immaterial Mind of God must sustain reality itself in its continual existence and even proves that our own immaterial minds ‘participate with God’, to a somewhat negligible degree, in bringing about this reality into existence.

    As leading experimental physicist Anton Zeilinger states in the following video, “,,, what we perceive as reality now depends on our earlier decision what to measure. Which is a very, very, deep message about the nature of reality and our part in the whole universe. We are not just passive observers.”

    “The Kochen-Speckter Theorem talks about properties of one system only. So we know that we cannot assume – to put it precisely, we know that it is wrong to assume that the features of a system, which we observe in a measurement exist prior to measurement. Not always. I mean in a certain cases. So in a sense, what we perceive as reality now depends on our earlier decision what to measure. Which is a very, very, deep message about the nature of reality and our part in the whole universe. We are not just passive observers.”
    Anton Zeilinger –
    Quantum Physics Debunks Materialism – video (7:17 minute mark)

    As far as empirical science goes, it would be hard to fathom a more compelling piece of scientific evidence directly establishing that the infinite Mind of God must sustain this universe in its continual existence than the closing of the free will loop hole in quantum mechanics. All other scientific evidences, such as the origin and fine tuning of the universe, while certainly very strong in their implications for God creating this universe, can be viewed as somewhat circumstantial in regards to directly establishing that the Mind of God lays behind the existence of the universe. On the other hand, the closing of the ‘free will loop hole’ directly establishes by experimental evidence the fact that the immaterial Mind of God must lay behind the existence of the universe.

    Moreover, allowing the Agent causality of God ‘back’ into physics, as the Christian founders of modern science originally envisioned, and as quantum mechanics itself now empirically demands, provides a very plausible resolution for the much sought after ‘theory of everything’ in that Christ’s resurrection from the dead provides an empirically backed reconciliation, via the Shroud of Turin, between quantum mechanics and general relativity into that quote unquote ‘Theory of Everything”

    (February 19, 2019) To support Isabel Piczek’s claim that the Shroud of Turin does indeed reveal a true ‘event horizon’, the following study states that ‘The bottom part of the cloth (containing the dorsal image) would have born all the weight of the man’s supine body, yet the dorsal image is not encoded with a greater amount of intensity than the frontal image.’,,,
    Moreover, besides gravity being dealt with, the shroud also gives us evidence that Quantum Mechanics was dealt with. In the following paper, it was found that it was not possible to describe the image formation on the Shroud in classical terms but they found it necessary to describe the formation of the image on the Shroud in discrete quantum terms.

    Moreover, Christ’s resurrection from the dead also directly refutes the bottomless pit of nihilism inherent in the atheist’s worldview. As Paul stated in the scriptures, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

    1 Corinthians 15:55-57 New International Version (NIV)
    “Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”
    The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

  6. 6
    bornagain77 says:

    Besides the empirical verification of ‘free will’ and/or Agent causality within quantum theory bringing that rather startling solution to the much sought after ‘theory of everything’, there is also a fairly drastic implication for individual people being “brought into the laws of nature at the most fundamental level” as well.

    The Trouble with Quantum Mechanics – Steven Weinberg – Jan. 19, 2017
    ,,, In the instrumentalist approach,,, humans are brought into the laws of nature at the most fundamental level.,,,
    In quantum mechanics these probabilities do not exist until people choose what to measure, such as the spin in one or another direction. Unlike the case of classical physics, a choice must be made,

    Although free will is often thought of as allowing someone to choose between a veritable infinity of options, in a theistic view of reality that veritable infinity of options all boils down to just two options. Eternal life, (infinity if you will), with God, or Eternal life, (infinity again if you will), without God. C.S. Lewis states the situation as such:

    “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell.”
    – C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

    In support of C.S. Lewis’s contention that “Without that self-choice there could be no Hell”, I only have to point to the people who are fanatically ‘pro-choice’ as far as abortion in concerned, demanding the unrestricted right to choose death for their unborn baby no matter what stage of development the baby may be at. Shoot, infanticide itself is now being demanded as a ‘choice’ by many on the ‘pro-choice’ side.

    Moreover, exactly as would be a priorily expected on the Christian view of reality, we find two very different eternities in reality from two of our most powerful scientific theories in science. An ‘infinitely destructive’ eternity associated with General Relativity and a extremely orderly eternity associated with Special Relativity (and Quantum Mechanics, i.e. QED, quantum electrodynamics):

    Quantum Mechanics, Special Relativity, General Relativity and Christianity – video

    Again, the implications for individual humans are fairly drastic,

    Bill Wiese (Man Who Went To Hell) – 23 Minutes in Hell (8 Minute Version)

    i.e. A person, in his acceptance or rejection of God, (since life itself and all that is good in life is in and from God), is literally choosing between eternal life with God or eternal death separated from God


    Luke 16: 25-26
    “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

    Because of such dire consequences for our eternal souls, I can only plead for atheists to seriously reconsider their choice to reject God, and to now choose life, even eternal life with God, instead of eternal death.

    Turin Shroud Hologram Reveals The Words “The Lamb” – video

    John 5:24
    Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

    Moreover, we have far more observational evidence for the reality of souls than we do for the Darwinian claim that unguided material processes can generate functional information.

    Near-Death Experiences: Putting a Darwinist’s Evidentiary Standards to the Test – Dr. Michael Egnor – October 15, 2012
    Excerpt: Indeed, about 20 percent of NDE’s are corroborated, which means that there are independent ways of checking about the veracity of the experience. The patients knew of things that they could not have known except by extraordinary perception — such as describing details of surgery that they watched while their heart was stopped, etc. Additionally, many NDE’s have a vividness and a sense of intense reality that one does not generally encounter in dreams or hallucinations.,,,
    The most “parsimonious” explanation — the simplest scientific explanation — is that the (Near Death) experience was real. Tens of millions of people have had such experiences. That is tens of millions of more times than we have observed the origin of species , (or the origin of life, or the origin of a protein/gene, or of a molecular machine), which is never.,,,
    The materialist reaction, in short, is unscientific and close-minded. NDE’s show fellows like Coyne at their sneering unscientific irrational worst. Somebody finds a crushed fragment of a fossil and it’s earth-shaking evidence. Tens of million of people have life-changing spiritual experiences and it’s all a big yawn.
    Note: Dr. Egnor is professor and vice-chairman of neurosurgery at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

    Moreover, ‘immaterial information’, which is the one thing that, (as every ID advocate intimately knows), unguided material processes cannot possibly explain the origin of, has now been empirically established as being physically real. Moreover, this physically real ‘immaterial information’ directly supports the transcendent nature of our soul:

    Information is Physical (but not how Rolf Landauer meant)

    Darwinian Materialism vs. Quantum Biology – video

    As Stuart Hameroff states in the following video: “it’s possible that this (conserved) quantum information can exist outside the body. Perhaps indefinitely as a soul.”

    “Let’s say the heart stops beating. The blood stops flowing. The microtubules lose their quantum state. But the quantum information, which is in the microtubules, isn’t destroyed. It can’t be destroyed. It just distributes and dissipates to the universe at large. If a patient is resuscitated, revived, this quantum information can go back into the microtubules and the patient says, “I had a near death experience. I saw a white light. I saw a tunnel. I saw my dead relatives.,,” Now if they’re not revived and the patient dies, then it’s possible that this quantum information can exist outside the body. Perhaps indefinitely as a soul.”
    – Stuart Hameroff – Quantum Entangled Consciousness – Life After Death – video (5:00 minute mark)

    Thus in conclusion, the primary question that we need to address is not the question of whether or not life exists elsewhere in this universe, (since that question does not address the bottomless pit of nihilism inherent in the atheist’s worldview), but is the question of whether or not there is life after death. And in answer to that question the Christian can now offer very strong scientific evidence to the affirmative, that Christ did indeed defeat death on the cross and that eternal life is indeed available for any who choose to accept the priceless free gift of eternal life from God.

    Romans 6:23
    For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    The Easter Question – Eben Alexander, M.D. – March 2013
    Excerpt: More than ever since my near death experience, I consider myself a Christian -,,,
    Now, I can tell you that if someone had asked me, in the days before my NDE, what I thought of this (Easter) story, I would have said that it was lovely. But it remained just that — a story. To say that the physical body of a man who had been brutally tortured and killed could simply get up and return to the world a few days later is to contradict every fact we know about the universe. It wasn’t simply an unscientific idea. It was a downright anti-scientific one.
    But it is an idea that I now believe. Not in a lip-service way. Not in a dress-up-it’s-Easter kind of way. I believe it with all my heart, and all my soul.,,
    We are, really and truly, made in God’s image. But most of the time we are sadly unaware of this fact. We are unconscious both of our intimate kinship with God, and of His constant presence with us. On the level of our everyday consciousness, this is a world of separation — one where people and objects move about, occasionally interacting with each other, but where essentially we are always alone.
    But this cold dead world of separate objects is an illusion. It’s not the world we actually live in.,,,
    ,,He (God) is right here with each of us right now, seeing what we see, suffering what we suffer… and hoping desperately that we will keep our hope and faith in Him. Because that hope and faith will be triumphant.

  7. 7

    I write this post with some annoyance. Let me put this in caps. In 1976, the two Viking Landers landed on Mars with instrumentation to detect life.
    Details are at Gil Levin’s web pages: http://gillevin.com/mars.htm
    Since then, there have been many, many confirmatory data sets: Black algae on a snowy crater, fossilized crinoids, methane in the atmosphere, algae on the polar cap, patterned (tundra) ground, “blueberries” rock formations, biominerals (clay), chloro-methane in the atmosphere. If they do not count as evidence of life, then what can? The list of contrived abiotic models to discount these data is not only noted for its failures (e.g. no water, or supermetalloperoxides), but also noted for its silliness (abundant hydrogen peroxide, liquid carbon dioxide). The only reason to dismiss so much data is if there is some even more important (dare I say, religious) overriding principle at play. And it plays at NASA.

  8. 8
    goodusername says:

    Robert Sheldon,

    I recall reading keay Davidson’s biography of Carl Sagan (“Carl Sagan: A Life”) about 10 years ago, and at one point in the book it goes on a lengthy tangent talking about the results of the detectors on the Viking Landers. IMO, it was the most riveting part of the book. It’s been too long for me to remember the details, but I remember being on the edge of my seat reading about the results of the instruments’ experiments, and the arguments among the scientists as to what the findings meant, etc., despite the fact that it had all occurred 30 years earlier. I had always been an astronomy buff, and so I was shocked that that was the first time I was reading about how interesting the results of the experiments were. Up until then every time I heard anyone talk about the Vikings experiments, it was a simple “nothing was found”. I wouldn’t say I was convinced that there was life on Mars, but the results certainly seemed worthy of a follow-up mission.

  9. 9
    bornagain77 says:

    of note:

    Stanford’s Scott Hubbard, former ‘Mars czar,’ reviews latest news on the red planet – BY TAYLOR KUBOTA – AUGUST 16, 2018
    Discoveries of complex molecules and a liquid water lake, a birthday for one rover and concern for another have brought Mars a lot of attention this summer. Here’s what the first Mars program director, Scott Hubbard, has to say about all the recent excitement over the red planet.
    Excerpt: It was recently Curiosity’s sixth birthday on Mars. Looking back on its time there, what do you think about the rover’s accomplishments?

    The prime mission for Curiosity was one Mars-year (two Earth-years) and it has exceeded that substantially. It has made a number of terrific discoveries, the most recent one of which is the first-ever detection of complex organics – materials made of a few atoms of carbon and hydrogen that could indicate biological reactions. The rover had previously detected simple organics – which could result from all kinds of non-biological reactions – but this was something called kerogen. Kerogen on Earth is the fossilized leftovers of algae and plants. So, does this come from the same source? We don’t know. But it is what we had been looking for: a sign that there was some biology going on.

    Curiosity was the last of a series of orbiters and landers of evermore-increasing capability. This started with the little test rover, the Mars Pathfinder, then Spirit and Opportunity which are real geophysical laboratories. If there are any fingerprints of life anywhere on Mars, the job of this Curiosity was to drill in and extract that rock, put it in its incredibly elaborate and sophisticated on-board chemistry set – the Sample Analysis for Mars or SAM – and see what’s there.

    NASA recently said that terraforming Mars seems very unlikely, given present-day technology. Should we be disappointed?

    I think NASA was saying that we understand the appeal of this idea but if you look at the actual situation with Mars, the chemistry you would have to do on a global scale, it looks like something that is not 20 years but maybe 200 years in the future. I don’t think that article said it was impossible but it said that it is really out there at the border between science and science fiction.,,,

  10. 10
    bornagain77 says:

    of related note to the previous post:

    Curiosity’s organics on Mars – July 30, 2018
    Excerpt: Interpretation,,,
    The variety of different carbon-containing compounds that is present is strong evidence that they broke off of much bigger molecules. We think the Mojave and Confidence Hills sample in the cup started out with large organic molecules that are ancient — that is, the big molecules were there when the lake was a lake.
    They were big molecules with lots of carbons in rings and chains, called kerogens. Kerogens are a type of molecule that scientists have observed in carbon-rich meteorites, in ancient Earth rocks, and coals. They are made of lots of disorderly-looking linked rings and chains of carbon atoms. When SAM heated these kerogens, we think, single carbon rings and short chains broke off; we can’t detect kerogens directly, but we can see their broken bits in SAM evolved gas analysis.,,,
    What made the kerogens that SAM found in Pahrump Hills rocks?
    Biology is one possibility, but the kerogens could also have come from interplanetary dust particles or even igneous rocks (rocks that solidified from a melt).

    We decided to test some analogous materials in an Earth copy of the SAM instrument to see if they released collections of smaller carbon-containing compounds that are similar to the collection we observed with SAM on Mars. We ran our experiment on a small sample of the Murchison meteorite (which has a composition similar to interplanetary dust particles) and the Tissint Mars meteorite (which has an igneous origin). Both of these do contain kerogens. Both of these experiments produced carbon-containing compounds like the ones we saw in the Mojave and Confidence Hills samples from Mars, although each rock (Curiosity sample, Murchison, and Tissint) produced different amounts of the different kinds of compounds. So these additional experiments didn’t tell us anything about where the carbon compounds we detected on Mars came from, but they do support our favored interpretation, that the Mars rocks contained kerogens.

    We wish we could tell you where these large carbon molecules came from. We can’t. All options — biology, Mars geology, meteorites — are on the table. If biology was a factor, then a lot has happened to these organic molecules over time; there’s nothing in what we saw with SAM that makes biology a better interpretation than any other.
    We can go through a list of possibilities, but we believe that the most important preservation agent was the presence of sulfur in the molecules. The Mojave and Confidence Hills SAM experiment yielded much more carbon bound to sulfur in a variety of different compounds than any other experiments we’ve done on Mars. The sulfur atoms help link up smaller carbon-containing molecules into much bigger ones, and then prevent them from breaking down. We take advantage of this property of sulfur industrially on Earth to help carbon-containing molecules stay big and unbroken. It’s vulcanization, the same process that tire manufacturers use to keep tire rubber from degrading. When those big sulfur-containing carbon-rich molecules get attacked by oxygen, the oxygen is more likely to react with and break off the sulfur, leaving the carbon behind, preserving the big molecules.

    The kerogen molecules in the Pahrump Hills rocks could’ve had this sulfur from their beginnings (whatever their origin), but it’s also possible that the molecules didn’t start out containing so much sulfur. Sulfur could have come in at the time that the lakebed sediments were turning into rock. In fact, we have evidence from SAM that hydrothermal groundwater that contained sulfides once percolated through these particular rocks. There was probably hydrogen sulfide present, which would’ve reacted with the carbon-containing molecules to leave behind a sulfur atom in the molecular structure.,,,
    While it’s disappointing that we can’t figure out where the carbon-rich large molecules came from, it’s really important that we were able to detect them in Mars material drilled from just beneath the surface. Mars’ present-day environment is a very harsh one in which large carbon-containing molecules would be expected to degrade rapidly. If we can dig a little deeper, and look in the right places, we now have evidence-based hope that we can find better-preserved molecules in Mars rocks. At a site selected for better preservation of ancient materials, we just may be able to determine whether these molecules came from space, from igneous rocks, from hydrothermal activity, or — the most exciting possibility — ancient Mars life.

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