BONUS: The sky, it is blue. On Mars too.
A subject near and dear to my heart for many reasons, though one I usually only mention in passing. Life on Mars. Our colder, smaller, less atmospherically endowed sister planet in the Terran System. Does she harbor life? The age old question.
Yes, she does. Am I going to make a compelling case for it? Nope. Not really. Other, smarter, better academically endowed men and women have already done that.
So here it is!
Back in the late 1970's NASA sent our first brave robot friends to Mars, Viking 1 & 2. These pioneering automatons had the goal of snapping pictures and digging in the dirt for signs of life. They carried four different experiments on board for those purposes. Some of those experiments produced results indicating life.
You can look the details up yourself but the experiments involved soaking soil samples with a soup of different chemicals and measuring if any gas was released (to show microbes metabolizing nutrients). Then any gas released would be analyzed and if it looked like life then it would be baked in an oven at amazingly high temperature (1200 F). You know, to see if they kept going. Not surprisingly the activity measured (oh yeah, they got a positive result with the chemical soup free lunch experiment) leveled off and disappeared when they turned the autoclave on (the goal was to sterilize the soil, for control purposes).
Most microbes don't do well around 40 degree's or so outside their normal range. There are exceptions of course, but that seems to be a decent rule of thumb. So then, what was the average temperatures where the Viking Lander's landed? Plus or minus 1 F to negative 178 F. Poor little guys never had a chance.
Then in 2003 NASA picked up on something very interesting, methane in the Martian atmosphere. Why is that important? Methane is an unstable gas and Mars has a very thin atmosphere. Far to thin to retain methane in any measurable quantity for any great length of time. So it was an occasional kinda methane content. How occasional?
Seasonal. Specifically in the Summer time.
It gets better however. That is also when the Martian atmosphere has the highest concentrations of water vapor (hell, clouds even form sometimes). The plumes of methane are most dense in a few regions of Mars (Arabia Terra, Elysium Planitia, and Arcadia Memnonia), all of them equatorial.
NASA didn't want to make a fuss about this but a few months later the European Space Agency landed the Mars Express lander on the surface and confirmed it, effectively shaming NASA into talking about their own discovery.
Those rascally Europeans went a step further a few months later discovering ammonia in the atmosphere. Ammonia also breaks down very rapidly in Mars thin atmosphere, as such like the methane it needs to be replenished from some source.
There are two possibilities.
Geological processes such as vulcanism, plate shifting, etc.. deep within Mars releasing these gasses into the atmosphere. Or life.
The geological theory goes out the window into heavy traffic when you consider that all geological data from the lack of active volcanoes to the not shifting land masses to the extremely weak magnetic field of the planet indicate that Mars is, geologically speaking, dead.
It is possible that there is some hot magma action going on underneath Mars that we just have not observed yet. Fair enough, I will concede that point. It is odd however that this geological activity is on a very specific yearly cycle coinciding with the Martian summer and appearance of water vapor in the atmosphere from melting permafrost.
That leaves life.
There is the issue of water of course, oh wait, even NASA admitted to finding ice under the soil, and then even liquid water when a reporter noticed that the Phoenix lander had some splashed on its visible leg. Which didn't refreeze in the air, it evaporated. NASA then said there could be nothing alive in the soil because we found perchlorate tied up with the oxygen in the water.
Point one. Martian life may not thrive on or exclusively on oxygen. This is Alien life we are talking about. Even if it is microbes. Hell, it might eat that shit up like goth kids eat Count Chocula.
Point two. Perchlorate is found in the soil on Earth. For one in the Gobi desert, which is pretty inhospitable but still supports life. Its also found in 35 US states in the soil and ground water. So far, life continues to exist in most of the continental US.
Most scientists won't point any of this out for fear of ridicule and career suicide. Since I didn't pursue my degree in physics but went into a different field altogether I can sit back and poke fun at the inanity of the cover up all I like.
There is life on Mars ladies and germs. The only two reasons so far I can find for keeping that so poorly under wraps are thus. Fear of society collapsing in a panic, and fear of the Christians not feeling special anymore.
The first one won't happen. Maybe if we were talking about an Alien armada coming to cleanse the world of human life. Sure, I'd panic then. But microbes? I doubt it.
The second I could care less about. Frankly, science has no business holding the hand of any religion and caring about its feelings. Either they will adapt their beliefs, they will pretend it didn't happen, or they will lose their faith. Perhaps that is a little harsh. Perhaps. But isn't more harsh to withhold something of such monumental importance?
Not only would life on mars say, officially from NASA and thus a Western government (India already confirmed exolife last year, after it rained down on them from a comet), that we are not alone, it would say that life is common in the universe.
Because that means that life originated independently on two different planets in the same solar system. The odds against that are pretty steep, but if it happened twice here, then life must be more common in the universe than we think. It means we are not special anymore, but it also means we are not alone.
And now, Pictures!
Wow, look at that red sky! You see it? Its red! Oh wait, I forgot to alter the color settings on your monitor, gimme a sec... Oh, when I'm done, ignore the color plate. Forgot to crop that out...
So they are telling us the truth 'eh? They aren't hiding anything about Mars? Well, that being the case I was pledging allegiance to the wrong flag. All this time and I didn't know Old Glory was fucking purple.
Ah, bask in the hazy red sky of Mars. Quaid paid all that money for memories of this? It looks like Arizona.
All these pictures came from NASA websites by the way. Some of them are much harder to find now. Go figure. But they have hundreds of thousands. Some slip through.
Incoming objects from space now CLASSIFIED
Just a quickie at the end, because everyone loves a good quickie. The military & intel groups are no longer sharing data gathered on incoming objects from space with astrophysicists or astronomers. Up until now if their classified satellites picked up meteors hitting the atmosphere they would share whatever they could tell. Trajectory, area of impact, composition, size, etc.. Now, for no given reason, they have stopped. Weird.
The spooks and the military don't want to play nice with the nerds anymore, and science loses out.
High Weirdness of the Day: Radioactive Wasps. No, really.
Cleaning out an old Manhatten Project site is frought with the sort of peril one see's in 50's science fiction movies, radioactive bugs. This time, its wasps.
While they aren't gigantic, they are full of cessium and cobalt, and of course are wasps so they love to sting.It seems when the site was landscapped they moved in and used mud from an old nuclear fuel storage tank to build their nests.
If you live in Washington state, pray for winter... Well, actually they say most of the wasps are gone. Not dead, just gone. But they don't tend to re-use nests so each successive generation of wasps should be less radioactive than the last, if at all.
Unless of course, they mutate...
+ + +
Another real update, how about that!
Work and other obligations keep me occupied and away from meaningful time wasteing like my blog, I try. Just for you, my tens of dozens of loyal readers. Maybe I should start a Twitter feed? Nah, I am far to long winded for that.