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

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