The Curious Case for Methane on Mars, methane and active organics discovered on Mars (Issue #32)


By:  Nicole Willett

methane molecule 2 drsusanrubinOn December 16, 2014 at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco, a panel of scientists working on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity Rover data announced what we have all been waiting decades to hear.  John Grotzinger stated unequivocally, “…there is methane occasionally present in the atmosphere of Mars and there are organics preserved in (…) rocks on Mars.”

Why is this important?  All life on Earth that we have discovered so far is carbon based, aka organic.  Carbon is found in the DNA of all life forms on Earth.  Carbon can bind with many other elements to form thousands of molecules that are involved in biological processes.  Needless to say, finding organics and methane is a game changer for all of science, from astronomy to zoology.  Organics in general refer to molecules that are often found as components of life.  We know from studying life forms on Earth that methane is a common organic molecule that is a waste product of bacteria and macro organisms.  In fact approximately 90% of Earth’s methane has a biological origin.  However, about 10% of methane on Earth is a result of geological activity.  According to author Jeffrey Bennett from the University of Colorado, Boulder, “The amount of methane in the atmosphere appears to vary regionally across Mars, and also seems to vary with the Martian seasons.  This has led some scientists to favor a biological origin (…)if the source is volcanic (…) the amount of (…)heat necessary for methane release [could] be sufficient to maintain pockets of liquid water underground.”  Pockets of liquid water would be conducive to life.

blog 32 eath marsThe Earth and Mars have many similarities including a 24 hour and 24 hour 37 minute day respectively, a similar axial tilt causing seasons to occur, a rocky surface with many of the same types of rocks and minerals (which may be used as a source of energy), volcanic activity and hydrothermal vents past and/or present, water that is/was fresh, salty, acidic, and/or basic.  Now and perhaps most important of all, organic matter and methane.  In addition to the aforementioned facts, the fleet of rovers and orbiters that have arrived at Mars have proven an environment conducive to microorganisms existed and may currently exist on the Red Planet.   We know this thanks to the many spacecraft that have visited Mars and sent back ample amounts of data.

blog 32 natgeo3The Viking missions were sent to Mars in the mid 1970’s.  They carried a variety of scientific instruments.  Some of them sampled the atmosphere and some examined the regolith.  The results of these experiments have been studied repeatedly since they were performed.  The Labeled Release Experiment, designed by Dr. Gil Levin, made a controversial and still contested discovery of life on Mars.  Viking also discovered methane at 10.5 parts per billion (ppb) in 1976.  It seems both of these discoveries were discounted over the past four decades.

While utilizing the NASA Infrared Telescope in Hawaii, Michael Mumma, of NASA Goddard, observed methane using ground based instrumentation in 2003.  When he followed up the observations in 2006, the methane had vanished.  Some scientists have stated that is indicative of a seasonal plume.  According to NASA’s astrobiology website Mumma and his team observed 20-60 ppb of methane near the poles and up to 250 ppb near the equator.  It is interesting to note that the levels of methane are significantly higher near the equator where the temperature is higher and possibly more conducive to life.

Concentrations_of_methane_on_Mars esaA decade ago the European Space Agency (ESA) announced they had discovered plumes of seasonal methane on Mars.  In March of 2004, ESA announced that the Planetary Fourier Spectrometer on Mars Express detected about 10 ppb of methane in the Martian atmosphere.  A spectrometer is a device that “looks” at a sample of something, in this case atmospheric gases, and takes reading(s) to determine what molecules make up the sample being observed.  A computer generated graph of some type is then read by scientists to analyze the spectral data.

Although ESA and NASA themselves had previously detected methane on Mars, it was important to for NASA to continue the search, using the MSL Curiosity, on the ground in order to again verify the results.  The public may get frustrated with the continuous “discoveries” of methane, but science is always retesting results to essentially try to “disprove” itself in order to make sure the facts are real.  The Curiosity Rover landed on Mars in August of 2012.  It seemed that almost as soon as the Curiosity Rover started exploring her new home on Mars she discovered a dry riverbed where fresh water once flowed in Gale crater.  When she drilled into the rock dubbed “John Klein” scientists realized that the rock contained what biologists call CHNOPS. That acronym stands for Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Phosphorus, and Sulfur. Those are the six elements needed for all life on Earth to exist.  Another discovery were molecules that included carbon which scientists called “simple organics”.  The most recent and most important discovery includes more complex organic molecules than previously discovered, such as methane and chlorobenzene.  We know Mars is enriched with all of the same chemicals to make life that the Earth has.  This latest and greatest discovery puts to rest the long debate about whether Mars has organics.  Some scientists and laymen have been vehemently denying that it is possible.  For the community of “believers” in Martian organics, we feel Methane SAM graph nasa 2vindicated.

The amount of methane reported over the past forty years on the Red Planet ranges from 5-250 ppb from a variety of sources, NASA, ESA, orbiters, rovers, and ground based Earth telescopes.  Many peer reviewed scientific journal articles have been published regarding Martian methane and the possible explanations for its existence.  Some of the potential sources of methane include the presence of life, volcanoes, hydrothermal vents, and several other geological processes.  Methane breaks up and only has a lifespan of several decades to 300 years, which is a short time on a planetary scale. It then breaks down into water and carbon dioxide.  That being said, since methane is present on Mars, it must be getting replenished biologically or geologically currently.

Over the last few decades scientists have discovered amino acids in comets and meteorites, which we know slam into planets, so it is common sense to see that whether Mars originally had organics or not that organics would have landed there sometime in the last 4.5 billion years.  In 2012 it was announced that even Mercury has organics on its surface.  The moon Enceladus, orbiting Saturn, has organics spewing out of the ice covered surface from the salty ocean below.  It seems that everywhere we look we find organics.  We must ask ourselves, how easy is it to form organics and life?  Is life everywhere?

Mars Society Logo (High quality)“[A] striking aspect of the Curiosity discovery is that the concentration of methane detected varies sharply over time. That can only be the case if the source of the methane is locally concentrated, as a globally spread source could not cause such sharp variations. Thus, there may be a patch of ground relatively close to Curiosity which is the source of the emissions, and, therefore, a prime target to drill in an attempt to find subsurface life. Similar biologically suspect spots may well exist elsewhere. We need to locate such spots, and then send human explorers to drill and find out what lies beneath,” states Dr. Robert Zubrin, President of the Mars Society.

~Humans to Mars as a bridge to the stars

[Images:, NASA, NatGeo, ESA, NASA, TMS]

Note: The article snip above is from the Jan 1977 National Geographic magazine.  Below are the next few paragraphs.

blog 32 natgeo4blog 32 NatGeo1blog 32 Natgeo2

Terraforming Mars (Issue #24)

By:  Nicole Willett

The Sun has an approximate lifespan of ten billion years.  Most scientists believe we are about halfway through that life span.  Recently scientists have stated that the Sun will begin its death throes in about 2.8 billion years.  If humans behave in a way conducive to the health of the planet and themselves, we may still be in existence by then.  If that is the case we must be able to take humanity to a new home.  The Red Planet is a perfect first stop in this process.  He will survive longer than Earth.  But Mars will eventually perish as well.  In that case we must use Mars as a “practice” ground for learning how to take humanity to extrasolar planets in order to spread humanity around the galaxy.

blog 24NASA and other science organizations have been discussing a process called terraforming for a very long time.  Terraform means to make like Earth.  Many proposals have been submitted on the best way to make Mars like Earth.  The timelines proposed have varied from 100 years to 100,000 years.  We must find a balance between moving too fast and too slowly.  If we terrraform too fast, we may end up with a runaway greenhouse effect similar to what we see on Venus.  If we move too slow, we run the risk of other complications, such as the natural rhythms of the Red Planet changing during the process which could interfere and complicate any progress we may be making.  Terraforming Mars is of utmost importance in order to learn to live on other worlds.  Humanity must have the ability to be a multi-planet species in order to preserve Homo sapiens for millions or billions of years.

How could we go about terraforming Mars?  The 1,000 year plan seems to be a reasonable timeline.  If you utilize a version of Dr. Robert Zubrin’s, President and Founder of The Mars Society, Mars Direct plan, we would send up a series of habitats ahead of humans.  An automated system to manufacture fuel on the surface of Mars would be included in the initial payload.  This would allow the visitors to Mars to have a fuel supply ready for the return to Earth at a later date.   Humans would then take the six month trip and each crew would stay for 18 months, some may eventually choose to stay on the Red Planet.   Crews of Marsonauts would have an enormous responsibility to lay the groundwork for future Martians.

blog 24 natgeo3The first visitors would set up the habitat modules and start the greenhouse work.  When each successive group arrives at the initial home base, all necessary groundwork will have been laid for them to immediately begin working on the next set of tasks. This may include creature comforts.  In order for the settlers to feel at home on Mars, the habitats would need to be comfortable and roomy.  We would like the crew to feel at home, which will help with psychological concerns.  The greenhouses must also be a top priority.  COis already present in the atmosphere of Mars for plants to utilize for respiration, and they will return the favor by “exhaling” breathable O2 for the settlers.  Humans may feel depressed and isolated, but the aesthetic value of plants could make them feel more at home.  Plants will also serve as a major source of food which is essential to our survival.  They will also provide oxygen for breathing.  The Curiosity Rover has confirmed that the Martian soil is at least 2% water, so we will be able to heat up buckets of soil and extract water for plants and it must also be used for human consumption.  The H2O can also be divided into hydrogen for fuel and oxygen for breathing when necessary.  After we have perfected plants in greenhouses on the Red Planet, we may be able to allow bacteria and lichens, which are able to survive in arctic environments, to grow on the outside of the habitats and greenhouses.   The rovers on Mars have confirmed that the soil is already conducive to certain types of plants.

blog 24 natgeoNow we are ready for the next set of terraforming duties.  What is needed next is a nice thick and warm atmosphere.  Several suggestions have been proposed as to which approach for this is best.  Ideas have been as varied as giant orbiting mirrors to nuclear explosions and everything in between.  A common suggestion has been to release the CO2 frozen in the soil and in the polar ice caps into the atmosphere using factories spewing out what we consider greenhouse gases on Earth.  Whichever tactic is utilized to thicken the atmosphere, once it is warm enough for the polar ice and ground ice to melt and turn some H2O to liquid and some to gas then we are well on our way to add more complex plant life.  The water cycle should begin to look more Earthlike.  Rivers should start to flow, seas will develop, and rain will fall.  Regular weather patterns will develop and Martian meteorologists will surely scramble to predict weather as they do now on Earth.  Next we will add insects and flowering plants.  The soil will become more enriched with the addition of each more complex organism.  This will allow for the addition of even more complex plants and animals in succession periodically, for instance large trees will allow forests to take hold.

blog 24 natgeo2Energy is a must for the spread of civilization.  It is hoped that we have learned from our mistakes on Earth, and we will use all clean energy with little waste on Mars.  Transportation and city planning systems will be developed.  An entire new branch of humanity will start to evolve on the new Mars.  Plants and animals will grow and change over time being separated from their parent species on Earth.  Entire ecosystems will develop on their own trajectory, separate from all life on Earth.  Over the 1,000 year period Mars will be turned from a vast desert with a coral sky into a bountiful planet full of life with a beautiful blue sky.  It may look similar to Earth, but the inhabitants will become truly Martian.

Recently Dr. Zubrin spoke about the importance of humanity rallying from different countries to go together to Mars.  This is an important step in terraforming the planet.  We are all aware that people from all over the world may have important contributions to make to a manned mission to Mars.  Our lack of sociological maturity should not stand in the way of such a humanity altering event.  Borders on maps should not prevent the forward motion of science, technology, and exploration.  It is time to band together as Earthlings to accomplish this goal.  There is nothing beyond our technological ability to stop us from reaching Mars and settling there.  Terraforming is the next necessary step in this plan.

[Images: Wikipedia, NatGeo, NatGeo, NatGeo]

Why Could We Be Descendants of Martians? (Issue #22)

By: Dr. Steven Benner and Nicole Willett

For many years, scientists have considered the model that life originated on Mars and was transported to Earth, rather than originating on Earth.  This model turns on answers to the question: What molecular structures are necessary for biology to “switch on”, moving from an inanimate state to a living state, where reproduction and adaptation (key parts of Darwinian evolution) are able to allow life to manage challenges to its blog 22 dnaexistence. For many, this switch requires the emergence, from a “prebiotic soup”, genetic molecules such as DNA and RNA. And, if this is true, the model then turns on the questions: Could genetic molecules have emerged on Earth? Could they have emerged on Mars? And given what we think about the environments on early Earth and Mars, which were more suited for the kinds of prebiotic chemistry that might give genetic molecules?

Dr. Steven Benner, of the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Florida, presented findings at the Goldschmidt Conference in Florence, Italy last week that suggest that Mars was more suited. His research increases the chance that life originated on Mars and was transported to Earth via meteorites.  Some people say this is an outlandish claim, while others are becoming more intrigued by the facts that support this model.

To understand this subject, let’s start with some background information about chemistry and biology.  Chemistry is the study of the elements (atoms) on the periodic table and how they connect and interact to make up everything in the universe, including you.  Prebiotic chemistry is the study of how complex molecules that might allow the “switch” to biology might have emerged without life. Models in prebiotic chemistry describe how these non-biological molecules might, under defined conditions, somehow become biological.  The missing link is the “somehow become biological”.  Many studies and journal articles have been published on this subject.  Some have been found to be incorrect and others linger with unanswered questions.

blog 22 single cell fsu eduThe first form of life was, we presume, a single celled organism.  Even so, the cells were complex compared to the prebiotic molecules that preceded them.  The most important elements to early cells are, we presume, also those important to modern biology: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur. These were almost certainly combined on early Earth and Mars, first into small molecules (hydrogen cyanide, for example, HCN, or water HOH, or formaldehyde, HCHO). Processes are known where they can be further assembled (without life) to give components of genetic molecules, including the nucleic acid bases adenine, thymine, uracil, guanine, and cytosine. These bases are the individual letter codes commonly seen in articles and television shows where people check DNA tests.

But here the chemistry becomes more difficult. To further assemble these units into genetic molecules like RNA (believed to be a precursor of DNA), several things must happen. First, the organic molecules present on early Earth and early Mars, must avoid decomposition. As anyone knows who has left the stove on too long in the kitchen, organic molecules given energy tend to devolve into tar. For RNA to have a chance of emerging prebiotically, the devolution of its building blocks must be prevented.

In Florence, Benner presented evidence that minerals (like borax) containing the element boron (in the form of borate) are able to prevent this devolution. Borate captures carbohydrates that are formed in the prebiotic soup before they devolve to a tarry fate.

blog 22 meteor maryland weatherSecond, the atoms in the borate-captured carbohydrates must be rearranged to give ribose, the “R” in RNA. Dr. Benner presented the results of experiments that showed that minerals containing the element molybdenum (in its oxidized form, molybdate) can do this rearrangement.

Third, the ribose must be attached to adenine, uracil, cytosine, and guanine, each by forming bonds that are not easily formed in water. Then, phosphate must be added, also by forming bonds that are not stable in water. To do this, the amount of water available must be controlled; from time to time, the mixture must dry out.

This is all simple enough in the laboratory today. However, Dr. Benner pointed to models from geologists who hold that water was so abundant on early Earth that no dry land was available. Further, these models suggest that borate could not have been presented in useful concentrations. They also suggest that early Earth was insufficiently oxidizing to give molybdenum in its oxidized molybdate form. In short, geologists were suggesting that RNA could not have emerged on early Earth, at least not by way of the prebiotic chemistry that Dr. Benner has proposed.

blog 22 MarsAsteroidImpactHowever, conditions on Mars appear to have been more favorable for Benner’s prebiotic chemistry. First, Mars has always had less water; it was easier to dry out on Mars. This should have allowed borate to be concentrated. Mars may have also had a more oxidizing environment, allowing for molybdate. Finally, phosphate may have been more accessible on early Mars.

We know of this thanks to the orbiters, landers, and rovers that have been studying Mars for nearly 40 years.  We have also collected a large number of meteorites that have come from Mars.  These meteorites contain, among other things, borate minerals and other species that Benner’s prebiotic chemistry requires for the formation of RNA, which is believed to be a predecessor to DNA.

But even if Mars was a more suited planet for life to form, that life must have come to Earth. The idea that life is delivered to one planet from another is called panspermia.  This is certainly possible. About one kilogram of Mars comes to Earth every day, after it is flung from Mars into the Solar System by a meteorite impacting on Mars. The low surface gravity of Mars makes escape from the Red Planet easier than from Earth. Reentry is sufficiently fast that microbes that originated on Mars would survive, arriving on Earth without damage. Here, they would find a planet that was habitable, able to sustain life, even Earth was not suited for life to originate in the first place.

blog 22 icebreaker model nasaTo further this analysis, we must fund and support missions to Mars that include new technology, such as the Icebreaker Mission.  This mission has a six foot drill that will drill beneath the surface of Mars in order to get samples that are far enough below the surface to be shielded from harmful UV radiation.  We must also fund and support missions that will send humans to Mars.  We need humans on Mars in order to respond imaginatively to uncertain conditions on the planet, required to do the appropriate science with the proper laboratory equipment in order to get the answers that have eluded us for decades, possibly centuries.  We need to find life on Mars in order to compare the DNA of the Martians to the DNA of the Earthlings.  Could we all be Martians?

“The emergence of life on Earth might have been an inevitable consequence of the laws of physics, and if that is true, then a living cosmos might be the only way our cosmos can be”   [Professor Brian Cox]

[Images: Benner, FSU, Md Weather, Spaceports, NASA]

The Martians of Fiction Are No More – Astrobiology and Extreme Organisms (Issue #8)

blog 8 mdrs nasaby: Nicole Willett

Astrobiology is a growing field in scientific research.  It is the study of organisms that live under extreme conditions.  These organisms are called extremophiles. Astrobiology encompasses many different sciences, including biology, astronomy, chemistry, and geology.  One goal of astrobiology is to search for habitable environments outside of Earth, on planets such as Mars.  Another is to find out how far to the extreme life can be pushed and still thrive.  Not long ago, we had a very small definition of where and under what conditions life can exist.  Since the implementation of Astrobiology into the world of true scientific research, we have redefined where life can flourish.  The purpose of the rovers and landers on Mars has been to find evidence of past water and possible organic compounds. Astrobiologists are also looking for any evidence of prebiotic chemistry on Mars.  By doing field research and laboratory studies on Earth, we can make comparisons to what we are currently finding on Mars.  Our narrow definition of life from 20 to 30 years ago has been blown wide open.It is now known that life can exist under tremendously stressful conditions.  There are many new terms for these organisms.  Some of which are alkaliphile, halophile, radioresistant, polyextremophile, lithoautotroph, oligotroph, and cryophile.  All of these organisms live in areas that are very far from the traditional areas where life was once believed to thrive.  Previously we believed life needed sunlight, water, a food source, and to exist between 32oF (0oC) and 212oF (100oC).

blog 8 ky cave shrimp pubs usgs govThis narrow niche has changed to a very broad area.  There have been organisms found living in deep caves completely without sunlight and thriving.  One example of this is called the Kentucky cave shrimp.  It is a blind and almost transparent troglobite shrimp. Also, several organisms, such as diatoms and algae, have been discovered living happily in the Arctic and Antarctic Sea ice.  In addition, the bottom of the ocean contains hydrothermal vents that are under extreme pressure and high temperature.  At these vents are entire ecosystems of extremophiles.  They include millions of bacteria, several species of tube worms, shrimp, crabs, fish and many other organisms.  The pH at the vents throughout the world have been measured to be as low as 2.8 (acidophile) and as high as 10 (alkaliphile). An alkaliphile lives in soil that has a high pH usually 9 or above.  The results from the Phoenix Lander that studied the Martian soil in 2008 came back with a pH between 8 and 9.  We know there are organisms on Earth that thrive in alkaline soil.  One example is the Bacillus okhensis.  This organism has been found on salt flats in India.  It is also considered a halophile or salt tolerant bacterium.  Halophiles can be found in environments with a salt content at least five times greater than ocean salinity.  They are found in the Great Salt Lake in Utah, salt flats, and even in the Dead Sea.

Deinococcus radiodurans
is a bacterium that is known to Astrobiologists as an extremely radiation resistant organism.  A lethal dose of radiation for a human is 5 Gy (grey units).  A typical medical x-ray is about 1 mGy (milli grey unit= 0.001 Gy).  This hardy organism can resist a dose of 5,000 Gy wwith no loss of viability and 15,000 Gy with a 37% viability rate. Deinococcus has also been known to be resistant to cold, dehydration, the vacuum of space, and acidic environments.   It is known as a polyextrmophile.  A polyextremophile is an organism that possesses many different characteristics of extreme organisms.
blog 8 tardigrade BBCAnother example of a polyextremophile that is a more complex organism is the tardigrade, more commonly known as a water bear.  These animals are amazingly resistant to almost anything nature sends its way.  They are approximately 0.5 mm in length, with four stubby legs, and a slightly segmented chubby body.   Water bears can be found just about anywhere one looks. They have been found from the Himalayas to 13,000 feet below the ocean and everywhere in between.  The pressure differential is tremendous between these areas.  Tardigrades can be heated to over 304oF (150oC) and chilled to -328oF (-200oC) and survive.  They have been taken to space, exposed to the vacuum and solar radiation, brought back to Earth, and survived.  Water bears have the ability to resist exposure to 5,000 Gy of radiation.  It has also been said, by some researchers that Tardigrades go into a state of chemobiosis to resist any environmental toxins that they are exposed to.  How would we know if a water bear were on Mars?  The Curiosity Rover has the ability to detect lipids that exist in the cell walls of organisms such as a tardigrade or any other microorganisms. This is possible even if the organism is in a state of suspended animation.

blog 8 lake vida NASA JPL

On November 28, 2012 it was widely reported that scientists had finally reached the salty water of Lake Vida in Antarctica.  This lake has been isolated from the rest of the world for at least 2,800 years.  The water in this lake has a salt content five times that of the ocean and is below the freezing point.  Even with all of these extreme conditions, scientists discovered 32 species of bacteria.  This number was higher than expected.  Scientists are already comparing this find to what may potentially be found on Mars.

There are many other examples of extreme organisms that are fascinating and may seem alien to people.  Astobiologists wish to use Earth analogues for their research.  The goal is to find the limits of life, if there are any.  This will help us to more readily recognize life when and if we find it on Mars or other bodies in the solar system.  Our rovers are working diligently on Mars to help us find the answer to the question, “Is there life on Mars?” 

On December 3rd, Curiosity Rover Scientists reported the latest findings on Mars.  Curiosity has discovered chlorinated hydrocarbons in the soil.  Included in these results are chloromethane (CH3Cl), dichloromethane (CH2Cl2), chloroform (CHCl3), and carbon tetrachloride (CCl4).  Many of these are found naturally on Earth in marine organisms.  However, the scientists at NASA have stated that these simple organics may not be indigenous to Mars.  They may be contaminants from Earth, asteroids, meteors, or comets, or they may have formed as a result of the chemical reaction in the SAM instrument itself.  Further tests will be performed to determine the nature of the simple organics. Another interesting find was that the percent of H2O in the soil was higher than expected.  In addition there was deuterium (heavy water), sulfur, and chlorine in the soil.  Sulfur is an essential element for all life on Earth.  Please be aware that it is a large leap to go from simple organics to “life” on Mars.  These results are still being verified and studied.  ~Stay Tuned…….

blog 8 mars warm season cold season secosky email dec 4 12

Images [The Mars Society,, pbworks, NASA/JPL, (Secosky)]

The Incredible Shrinking Martian – From Whales to Microbes (Issue #7)

Recently NASA’s Dr. John Grotzinger has made some exciting statements regarding the recent discoveries on Mars by the Curiosity Rover.  Later the news broke that there has not been any “definitive evidence of Martian organics.”  The results in question will be announced December 3rd at 9:00 am PST / 12:00 pm EST at the American Geophysical Union Conference in San Francisco, Ca.  As of December 1, 2012, there is no official recognition by the world-wide scientific community of life being found on the Red Planet…. Stay tuned…..

Nicole Willett, Education Director

Guest Blog by Robert B. Bruner

Derived from the Robert B. Bruner Book Collection at the Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff, Arizona

Robert Bruner has spent many years searching for and collecting books about Mars.  It is important to note that before 1900 there were very few books exclusively about Mars.  Mr. Bruner has donated almost 400 books to the collection at the Lowell Observatory.  He has generously compiled the following quotes and information exclusively for The Mars Society.  It is interesting to see the pattern of belief and data about life on Mars over such a long time period.

See the Recommended Reading tab of the Mars Society’s Education Page or click the link  for access to the Bibliography.  Many of these books are available online.

Celestial Scenery(1838) Dick, Thomas

As it is probable that one-third of the surface of Mars is covered with water, should we subtract one-third from these sums there would still remain accommodation for twelve times the number of the population of our globe.  The long duration of winter in the polar regions of Mars seems to require a moon to cheer them during the long absence of the sun; and if there be none, the inhabitants of those regions must be in a far more dreary condition than the Laplanders and Greenlanders of our 7 whale informationsentinel com

Plurality of Worlds, (1854) Whewell, William

Perhaps we are not quite certain about the existence of an atmosphere; and without such an appendage, we can hardly accord him tenants. But if he have inhabitants, let us consider of what kind they must be conceived to be, according to any judgment which we can form. The force of his gravity is so small, that we may allow his animals to be large, without fearing that they will break down by their own weight. In a planet so dense, they may very likely have solid skeletons. The ice about his poles will cumber the seas, cold even for the want of solar heat, as it does in our Arctic and Antarctic oceans; and we may easily imagine that these seas are tenanted, like those, by huge creatures of the nature of whales and seals, and by other creatures which the existence of these requires and implies.

Other Worlds Than Ours, (1870) Proctor, Richard

Surely, if it is rashly speculative to say of this charming planet that it is the abode of life- if we must, indeed, limit ourselves to the consideration of what has been absolutely seen-it is yet to speculate, ten thousand times more rashly to assert, in the face of so many probable arguments to the contrary, that Mars is a barren waste, either wholly untenanted by living creatures, or inhabited by beings belonging to the lowest orders of animated existence.

In the High Heavens, (1893) Ball, Thomas

That there may be types of life on Mars of some kind or other is, I should think, very likely.  Two of the elements, carbon and hydrogen, which are most intimately associated with the phenomena of life here, appear to be among the most widely distributed elements throughout the universe, and their presence on Mars is in the highest degree probable. But what course the progress of evolution may have taken on such a globe as Mars, it seems totally impossible to conjecture. It has been sometimes thought that the ruddy color of the planet may be due to vegetation of some peculiar hue, and there is certainly no impossibility in the conception that vast forests of some such as trees like copper-beeches might impart to continental masses hues not unlike those which come from Mars.

Mars as the Abode of Life, (1908) Lowell, Percival

blog 7 canals on Mars NASA JPLFor the construction of these residuary filaments we have a plethora of capabilities to  draw upon: in the first place, beings on a small planet could be both bigger and more effective than on a large one, because of the lesser gravity on the smaller body. An elephant on Mars could jump like a gazelle. In the second place, age means intelligence, enabling them to yoke nature to their task, as we are yoking electricity. Finally, the task itself would be seven times as light. For gravity on the surface of Mars is only about 38 per cent of what it is on the surface of the earth; and the work which can be done against a force like gravity with the same expenditure of energy is inversely as the square of that force. A ditch, then, seven times the length of one on earth could be dug as easily on Mars. Thus, not only do the observations we have scanned lead us to the conclusion that Mars at this moment is inhabited, but they land us at the further one that these denizens are an order whose acquaintance was worth the making. Whether we ever shall come to converse with them in any more instant way is a question upon which science at present has no data to decide.

There is Life on Mars, (1955)  Nelson, Earl

One of these beings declared he had come from Venus, the other from Mars. One, the Martian, was actually photographed. Both resemble terrestrial men in all respects. The Venusian is described as being young and handsome, slightly built and with rather long fair hair.  The Martian was estimated to have been about six feet tall, with a high forehead and, so far as one can judge, not so good looking. Apparently, the Venusian was able to breathe quite comfortably in our atmosphere without artificial aid of any kind. The Martian, on the other hand, appears to have had a small tube up his nose. After chatting amicably with the authors, in sign language, both men returned to their saucers, which took off again.

A Field Guide to the Stars and Planets, (1964) Menzel, Donald

The conspicuous red color apparently comes from regions not too different from various deserts of the earth, such as the Painted Desert of Arizona. White “buttons” on the two polar caps which vary in size with Martian seasons, are undoubtedly formed from ice- presumably a thin layer of hoarfrost- which completely vanishes during the Martian summer. Water is a scarce commodity; the planet possesses no discernible oceans or lakes. The grayish areas, once thought to be water, show seasonal changes suggestive of vegetation, but their precise nature has not yet been determined. They may be a form of moss or lichen.

 Caption of JPL Viking Press Release P-17384, (1976)

The picture shows eroded mesa-like landforms. The huge rock formation in the center, which resembles a human head, is formed by shadows giving the illusion of eyes, nose and mouth. The feature is 1.5 kilometers (one mile) across, with the sun angle at approximately 20 degrees. The speckled appearance of the image is due to bit errors, emphasized by enlargement of the photo. The picture was taken on July 25 from a range of 1873 kilometers (1162 miles). Viking 2 will arrive in Mars orbit next Saturday (August 7) with a landing scheduled for early September.

blog 7 alh84001 marsnews com (1)Abstract of Johnson Space Center Announcement 19970003266, (1996)Fresh fracture surfaces of the Martian meteorite ALH84001 contain abundant poly cyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These fresh fracture surfaces also display carbonate globules.  Contamination studies suggest the PAHs are indigenous to the meteorite. High resolution scanning and transmission electron microscopy study of surface textures and internal structures of selected carbonate globules show that the globules contain fine-grained, secondary phases of single-domain magnetite and Fe-monosulfides. The carbonate globules are similar in texture and size to some terrestrial bacterially induced carbonate precipitates. Although inorganic formation is possible, formation of the globules by biogenic processes could explain many of the observed features including PAHs. The PAHs, the carbonate globules, and their associated secondary mineral phases and textures could thus be fossil remains of a past Martian biota.

Beyond UFO’s(2008) Bennett, Jeffrey

Because Mars has no liquid water on its surface today, any extant life would presumably be underground at depths where heat can keep water liquid. In other words, Martian life today would probably resemble the terrestrial microbes known as endoliths that live in subsurface rock on Earth. Searching for Martian life therefore presents several difficult challenges: We’d need to drill down to bring up rock from fairly deep underground; we’d need to do that at a location where a heat source is keeping some of the water liquid; and then we’d need to conduct careful experiments to detect the presence of microscopic life.

From Dying Stars to the Birth of Life(2011) Cranford, Jerry

So, what is the story today with respect to the possibility of life on Mars? With the gradual demise of its atmosphere, greenhouse effect, and other sources of geothermal heat, Martian life, if it ever existed, may have been forced to go underground to survive. Life on the surface today would be continually bombarded by lethal doses of ionizing radiation from the Sun as was the Earth prior to the development of the protective oxygen ozone layer in the atmosphere. The fact that many different species of such tenacious critters have chosen to live in such locations on Earth would suggest that this might have occurred on Mars as well.


The Search for Aliens, (2012) Bizony,Piers

blog 7 bacteria dragonartz net

No one today seriously anticipates finding anything larger or more complex on Mars than single-celled organisms. At this tiny scale, it was better to focus on the kind of measurable chemical activity that Martian microbes might demonstrate, thus betraying their presence indirectly.  In December, 2003, the European-built Mars Express orbiter detected significant traces of methane in the planet’s thin veil of atmosphere. More than nine-tenths of terrestrial methane (a hydrocarbon consisting of four hydrogen atoms bound to one of carbon) is a by-product of life, whether in the form of fossil fuels and rotting swamps, or puffing out from the backsides of cows. The small fraction not produced biologically is geologic. In theory, it could be a waste product from microorganisms living under the Martian ice or buried deep under the soil.

[Images:, NASA/JPL,,]

Next Blog — Extreme Organisms