May 16, 2013

"Water that has been trapped in rock for more than a billion years... might contain microbes that evolved independently from the surface world..."

"... and it's a finding that gives new hope to the search for life on other planets."
"It's managed to stay isolated for almost half the lifetime of the Earth," [said Greg Holland, a geochemist at Lancaster University in England]. It's a time capsule. And it doesn't just hold water. "There's a lot of hydrogen in these samples."

That's significant because hydrogen is food for some microorganisms. Hydrogen-eating microbes have been found deep in the ocean and in South African mines where chemical reactions in the rock produce a steady supply of hydrogen. And that hydrogen, says Holland, "could provide the energy for life to survive in isolation for 2 billion years."
Now, do you see why we need to go to Mars?

Or do you think that we ought to start worrying about alien microbes liberated from the depths of Earth?

89 comments:

John Lynch said...

Medea hypothesis.

"... multicellular life, understood as a superorganism, is suicidal; in this view microbial-triggered mass extinctions are attempts to return the Earth to the microbial dominated state it has been for most of its history."

Mitchell the Bat said...

A classic cartoon: Link.

Balfegor said...

Eh, we were all looking forward to Shoggoths when the Russians breached Lake Vostok and announced they had found a new form of life, but it turned out to be a false alarm.

elkh1 said...

Humans will squeeze out from the cracks in another million years.

Bender said...

Yes, we need to go! So great is the need, that we need to hype and sensationalize and manufacture reasons for doing so. These "scientists" need the billions of dollars that will be spent on these projects!

edutcher said...

We ought to start worrying about the microbes liberated from the depths of Chicago.

PS Yes, Madame, our future is out there and the Lefties have forestalled it to pay for their Welfare State.

Nonapod said...

It would be pretty amazing if they found life made up of biochemicals that where of the opposite chirality (enantiomers) of modern organisms. Or completely RNA based lifeforms.

The Drill SGT said...

I predict the next step will be a call to stop drilling anywhere any time lest we either:

- pollute/corrupt this treasure of science

- unleash the alien plague on humanity

traditionalguy said...

If this doesn't excite me any more than mosses do, what does that say?

The evolved sea creatures are enough to excite me and they live a lot closer.

But this ancient water could interest Mayor Bloomberg who can ban it to protect us from the salt in it.

bagoh20 said...

I think it's to the point now where finding extraterrestrial life is gonna be kind of anticlimactic. It's seems pretty certain to my mind that it's out there, and that we will eventually know it as a common inevitability of certain chemistry and temperature ranges. And the sheer enormity of the numbers and probabilities mean there is someone out there far superior to us. If so, do we really want to meet them?

gerry said...

Life is of such low value here (ask Kermit Gosnell and his supporters in Planned Parenthood), why go elsewhere to find it?

"Hey, new life! Oops, I have to suction out my uterus."

wholelottasplainin' said...

If the organisms require molecular hydrogen to survive, they're not going to find it on Earth's surface.

I believe researchers manipulating the genes of potentially nasty little critters like viruses insert genes essential to the organism, but expressed only if the lab supplies particular nutrients not found naturally. So if the nasty critter escapes into the environment it won't survive because it lacks that nutrient.

(of course it...might...mutate into a form that doesn't require the nutrient -- in which case, we're screwed)

bagoh20 said...

I watched a series over the weekend that was about going to Mars. The overpowering thought it gave me was of impending disaster with the mission. I see them landing there and immediately realizing they miscalculated on something, and will never get back as planned. They will need to survive somehow there for the rest of their lives. We will try to rescue them, or send them what they need, but we will not pull it off, and the whole tragedy will happen in slow motion live on TV. Ratings gold!

Methadras said...

I still don't see a reason outside of achievement to go to mars. Rovers are doing an excellent job on their own. However, something puzzles me. What is the waste product of a hydrogen eating organism? More hydrogen?

Nonapod said...

By the way Desulforudis audaxviator is probably the weird bacterium that was found at the bottom of a South African gold mine a few years ago that this article was referring to. It's truly a bizarre organism, surviving on hydrogen released from radioactive decay of uranium, thorium, and potassium.

Darrell said...

Most of the great minds behind space travel intended machines--robots--to do all the work. Human beings were seen as too fragile to be involved in the project. Test pilots thought differently, of course. They always do.

Nomennovum said...

And the sheer enormity of the numbers and probabilities mean there is someone out there far superior to us. - Bagho20

Then where are they?

I am one who thinks we are alone in the universe as far as intelligent life goes. And that is the most awesome prospect. In a way, we are the center of the universe. So let's not fuck it up.

Nomennovum said...

What is the waste product of a hydrogen eating organism? More hydrogen?

Crap.

SteveR said...

Life in other places beyond earth is as certain as anything unknown can possibly be. Probably extremeley common. Intelligent life at the level of a sea cucumber or above, also extremely likely but not common at all.

John Lynch said...

I think there's other intelligent life in the universe, but that we are still alone.

If I was trapped on a small island in the South Pacific I'd be alone. The fact that I'd be on the same planet as billions of other people wouldn't matter if I couldn't get to them and they couldn't hear me.

Space is really, really big. That needs to be taken into account when we talk about ET. The universe can be big enough to guarantee intelligent life without guaranteeing that it's close enough to meet.

bpm4532 said...

Nice dream. I'd cool your jets. It's not like sailing off to an island or continent and then living off the land. Indications of perchlorate in the soil/dust on Mars means it would be toxic to life. I'm not sure of the life living in space-suits and in small quarters.

I'm hoping the Alcubierre Drive works out in practice and true warp drive is achievable. Then we won't have to go to Mars just because it's the closest place.

traditionalguy said...

The Christian petition to the Creator that "your will be done on earth as it is in the heaven" is the greatest hope for us waiting descendants of Adam.

After He does that, then we can decide whether we want to leave for for Mars, Jupiter and the Stars. Until then we keep waiting in hope.

John Lynch said...

Radiation would kill any Mars astronauts if we sent a mission today.

Until we figure out a solution to that problem it's a one-way trip.

John Lynch said...

Finally, once the romance of exploration wears off living on Mars comes down to living in a hostile environment in shitty pre-fab housing.

In other words, the way people live in Antarctica. I don't see millions of people moving down there. And it's a much nicer place than Mars. At least we can breathe the air.

gadfly said...

So water trapped in rock beneath the surface has the capability to trap microbes for a long, long time but do we have any evidence that this has ever occurred?

The answer is no. They found free hydrogen molecules trapped inside H2O, but no microorganisms.

Let me point out that the water was obtained from an uncontrolled source, the random drilling by gold miners. Then there is the pressure from the prehistoric oceans that may have caused the hydrogen not to combine with the water that surrounded it.

Original Mike said...

"Now, do you see why we need to go to Mars?"

I thought you weren't in favor of space exploration. Or was it only manned exploration?

Original Mike said...

"Rovers are doing an excellent job on their own."

Much as I love the Rovers, they are a poor second to the ability of scientists, on site, following their nose.

Original Mike said...

"Eh, we were all looking forward to Shoggoths when the Russians breached Lake Vostok and announced they had found a new form of life, but it turned out to be a false alarm."

Bill Clinton famously held a press conference (some say to distract from his "women" problems) to announce that NASA had (probably) found life in a meteorite from Mars. That claim pretty much fell apart, too.

Broomhandle said...

Then where are they?

The virtually unfathomable immensity of the universe (hell, of the galaxy) almost guarantees that we will never meet them. If they actually did show up it would mean they are so much more advanced than us that they'd probably smash us like bugs.

Rusty said...

Broomhandle said...
Then where are they?

The virtually unfathomable immensity of the universe (hell, of the galaxy) almost guarantees that we will never meet them. If they actually did show up it would mean they are so much more advanced than us that they'd probably smash us like bugs.


Right now, physics as we know it, prohibits this from happening. The distances are just too immense.
However scientists believe they have discovered neutrinos that came from outside our solar system.
We may yet discover a distant planet that is capable of sustaining us.

Tom said...

It would be safer to do this on Mars.

Nomennovum said...

The virtually unfathomable immensity of the universe (hell, of the galaxy) almost guarantees that we will never meet them.

Perhaps, but then their existence will always be a matter of faith, never provable, which is probably why some people seem to have a quasi-religious fervor about extraterrestrials and their presumed goodness and omnipotence.

On the other hand, our galaxy is not so vast that an advanced civilzation couldn't colonize most of it given the eons that have past since the Big Bang, even assuming a universal speed limit.

Tom said...

It would be safer to do this on Mars.

bpm4532 said...

John Lynch: Latest information is that radiation would not be as big a problem as feared.

Original Mike: How does one follow their nose in a space suit? I think all you would find is body odor.

Original Mike said...

Figure of speech, bpm.

I think there is hope of detecting electromagnetic evidence of other civilizations, if it exists. But actually being in the presence of extraterrestrial life, Mars and Europa are probably all we'll ever see.

Nomennovum said...

And, if we can never hope to meet the extraterrestrials that are out there becasue of the vastness of the universe, are we not contructively alone in the universe?

Original Mike said...

It's a philosophical question, Nomennovum. Is life common or rare? And if there is no other life, that's profound (though I don't see any way of proving that negative).

Strelnikov said...

Sounds like the start of a zombie apocalypse movie. How soon can we expect this ancient, deadly virus to spread worldwide, resulting in shambling hoards pursuing those of us left ( It goes without saying that I'll be one of the survivors.) in agonizingly slow motion?

Methadras said...

John Lynch said...

Radiation would kill any Mars astronauts if we sent a mission today.

Until we figure out a solution to that problem it's a one-way trip.


Moon and mars bases will need to be underground. Dead planets are dead for a reason. Our fascination with Mars appears to be misplaced. Our need to boldly go is noble, but can now be done without sacrificing people to do it.

Nonapod said...

The latest guesstimates of the Drake Equation suggests that there are 2 to 3 intelligent civilizations in the Milky Way Galaxy alone.

Nomennovum said...

And if there is no other life, that's profound ....

Yes. Leading to the really interesting question: Why only us?

Assuming we survive to travel to the stars, we will begin to get an inkling, however. Some will be frustrated if we find ... nothing. But I think we are already getting some inkling as to what a miracle life is. We've found nothing so far on Mars, even though it once had surface water and still does have water in places. The other planets in the Solar System are even less likely to have any kind of life on them, and the planets we've found outside the Solar System don't seem to be quite right yet either.

Tom Gallagher said...

I'm enjoying how the evolutionary arm of science has been reduced to conflating the origins of life with aliens; that and the fact that with all the trips to mars they found sand and nothing else.

John Lynch said...

The Drake Equation is bunk because we can put anything in it we want. The variables are so squishy that an answer of 2 or 3 is just as likely as 0, which means we can't exist. Two or three is enough to keep hope alive without having to prove anything.

Since an answer of 1000 or 10000 or 1000000 doesn't jibe with what we see (nothing), we change the Drake variables to reflect that. And that isn't science. Science is inductive. If there's nothing there, there's nothing there until we see it.

SETI reminds me of medieval theology, with an assumption that must be proved. It isn't scientific.

ricpic said...

Water washes scissors!

ricpic said...

Water breaks rock!

ricpic said...

But rock breaks scissors. So there you are.

Elliott A said...

We may never meet our neighbors, but we could converse with them. In our immediate neighborhood, say within 12 light years, with proper hibernation it would not be too far to one day travel to meet them. I think the philosophical and religious implications of confirming extraterrestrial origin life would be the major impact. Life on Mars may not be different from Earth, we share rocks from time to time.

Nonapod said...

and the planets we've found outside the Solar System don't seem to be quite right yet either.

Truthfully there's not enough info to say much on that front. NASA's Kepler mission and others have found a bunch that may be Earth-ish, but a lot of them are so called "Super Earths", planets that may be several times more massive than Earth, and therefore could have several times the gravity if they are terrestrial.

kurt9 said...

Now, do you see why we need to go to Mars?

Or do you think that we ought to start worrying about alien microbes liberated from the depths of Earth?


No and no.

People who want to go to Mars should finance it themselves. We don't need government (tax payers') money for this.

The microbes in the Earth are methanogens. They do not survive very long in our Oxygen atmosphere. Hence, they are no threat to us. They are, however, an opportunity. Their existence suggests that Thomas Gold's theory about them being the origin of oil is correct. If so, it means there is much, much more oil than anyone expects in the Earth, giving us plenty of time to develop fusion power.

kurt9 said...

The Medea Hypothesis is Peter Ward's hard-on for the Rare Earth (meaning rare complex life) Hypothesis.

Fernandinande said...

"Or do you think that we ought to start worrying about alien microbes liberated from the depths of Earth?"

Yes, because of microbewave radiation.

But no, because it's almost guaranteed that they're harmless.

Alex said...

And the sheer enormity of the numbers and probabilities mean there is someone out there far superior to us. If so, do we really want to meet them?

Welcome them as our overlords and pray they don't want to eat us.

Alex said...

Radiation would kill any Mars astronauts if we sent a mission today.

Until we figure out a solution to that problem it's a one-way trip.


Mars fervor, electric vehicle fervor and so on. All these things can be debunked easily with logic, but that just enrages the fanatics all the further.

Dante said...

In our immediate neighborhood, say within 12 light years, with proper hibernation it would not be too far to one day travel to meet them.

I suspect people will never travel to the stars. Instead, a seed will be constructed that can replicate the machinery to create communications equipment, and perhaps even a factory to create a spaceship or mine for fuel will be created.

People are simply too heavy.

John Lynch said...

kurt9

Funny how Rare Earth came up anyway?

John Lynch said...

Dante-

You build a people factory, too. You bring genetic material and clone people once the ship gets there.

Arthur Clark came up with that.

Crunchy Frog said...

In other words, the way people live in Antarctica. I don't see millions of people moving down there. And it's a much nicer place than Mars. At least we can breathe the air.

The air is not the biggest problem - it's the gravity. Our bodies were designed to operate in a 1G environment, not 1/3G like what exists on the surface of Mars.

The Russian cosmonauts who spent way more time on Mir than is healthy came back to crippling health problems - osteoporosis, atrophied muscles, etc. There's a reason that astronauts spend a huge chunk of their time in exercise - it's the only thing that lets them come home to a normal life.

A manned Martian mission would consist of 6 months at 0G, 6 at 1/3G, and 6 more at 0G. Chances are anyone returning from such a trip would be unable to walk at best, and unable to breathe without breaking ribs at worse. They'd make Sam Jackson in Unbreakable look positively robust.

Mark O said...

Let me get this, because I might not have it. Water. Found here on Earth. It can offer proof of life elsewhere in the universe?

Math is hard.

If you want proof of alien life (and I don't mean from Mexico) there is serious evidence of sightings and physical manifestations in what we call UFO events.

Of course, to those who find that stupid, you can use Earth water to prove the existence of life somewhere else.

wyo sis said...

Moses 1:33
And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten.

Science finally catches up with religion?

Original Mike said...

"NASA's Kepler mission and others have found a bunch that may be Earth-ish..."

Unfortunately, Kepler is currently broken (to use a technical term).

Dante said...

Let me get this, because I might not have it. Water. Found here on Earth. It can offer proof of life elsewhere in the universe?

I've had this debate with friends before, which goes like this. How many times did life independently form on earth? Once? Multiple times?

If it is once, I've argued life is probably rare, and we aren't going to find it many other places.

These folks are going to see whether it formed multiple times (my guess is they will fail). If they find it has formed multiple times, it means life starting isn't that hard, and it is more likely there is life outside of planet earth in the Galaxy.

Now, there is something called Fermi's paradox, which goes something like this: If there IS life in the galaxy, why hasn't it found us? The galaxy is about 120,000 light years across. If you imagine where human intelligence would be in say 100,000 years from now, it would seem small replicating systems could be sent to say explore the entire galaxy in a million years (which is about 1/2000 of how long life has been on earth).

In other words, if there is intelligent life in the galaxy right now, it is probably considerably advanced compared to us, but they haven't found us.

That's the paradox.

bagoh20 said...

Hey, Nonapod used the word "guesstamets". Aren't we supposed to beat him up, or give him a wedgie or something?


Dante said...

You build a people factory, too. You bring genetic material and clone people once the ship gets there.

Arthur Clark came up with that.


Didn't read that. I came up with Fermi's paradox as an argument against SETI, and the replication stuff on my own, but so have a lot of people, I've since found.

I've also considered you could send the genetic encoding of people to these other planets, but the question is "Why?" I suspect what will happen with humans is they will create the next smart thing anyway, as people seem to be running out of the ability to break into new things. Perhaps carbon nano-tube based brains. Then the question becomes "How many independent entities do you need?"

That's a tough one.

Cedarford said...

Original Mike said...
"Rovers are doing an excellent job on their own."

Much as I love the Rovers, they are a poor second to the ability of scientists, on site, following their nose.

==========================
People commonly miss that several thousand scientists are already "on site", and "following their noses" in being on earth, commanding the craft to tasks, and looking at data streams that far exceed the range, semsitivity, and accuracy of the 5 human senses ability to feed into a single scientis brain.
A scientist only able to get to such a site at great risk and with hideous expense.

Despite the NASA PR about how finding exolife, exobacteria, or even dead billions of year fossil bacteria would rival discovery of electricity or the start of human agriculture in "profoundity"...
Thats pretty much crap.
"We are not Alone!" would be met by half the people saying "we already knew that from the math" - and the othr half going "germs and long dead ones on another world? - BFD!".

What would be important is if we:

1. Found intelligent life more advanced than ours, around much longer, that would deign to communicate with us, and contact would be more positive than negative...(Along with news we Gplatz eradicated religion 83 million years ago when we proved no God existed, we are sending blueprints for our 41 million year old fusion powerplants still used today, and hydrogen scoopships. And news of other civilizations encountered 5, 18, 45,46,51 million years ago..and why you need to avoid all contact with the R'rali. Just keep sending us your primitive art and what hopefully will be your proto-history.)

2. Find out how we can colonize any place off-earth. The technological and resource and environmental barriers are formidable. For starters, Mars lacks nitrogen needed for protein synthesis, and we have no power supply and prospects to fuel it that would work on Mars, let alone more exotic locales.

3. If planets cannot be adapted to allow human life as it now exists..if long space travel is impossible for earth based biology...then man may have to be adapted to live anywhere off-earth. And many have long speculated that would mean machines, with humanlike AI.

Mark O said...

"Do we really want to meet them?"

I do. I'm on Extraterrestrial Mingle. The Star Wars bar is nothing.

Astro said...

Going to Mars is a good idea - but not using any of the technologies available today. It makes no sense to spend trillions of dollars on a slow, dangerous, low-energy 'Hohmann orbit'. Once high-energy technologies are developed that can get people there within weeks, not years, then it would make sense.

Smilin' Jack said...

You build a people factory, too. You bring genetic material and clone people once the ship gets there.

No, what you do is broadcast complete instructions for making humans (complete DNA sequence, formulas for required nutrients, etc., as well as a complete educational program--a college education on tape.) Aliens will receive the message and follow the instructions just to see what happens. What will happen is that the mature humans will slaughter the aliens and take over their planet. Thus will civilization spread throughout the galaxy.

The air is not the biggest problem - it's the gravity. Our bodies were designed to operate in a 1G environment, not 1/3G like what exists on the surface of Mars.

That's why the only suitable site for an extraterrestrial colony in the solar system is Venus. We can build air conditioners; we can't build gravity.

Original Mike said...

"People commonly miss that several thousand scientists are already "on site", ..."

Please. You can crawl along the ground at one place on the planet and do only those 2 or 3 experiments that are onboard. I don't care if there are tens of thousands of scientists looking at the results. If your results indicate the need for different analyses, you need to build and launch a new rover. It's excurciatingly slow.

John Lynch said...

The Cloud Cities of Venus!

RecChief said...

microbes that eat hydrogen locked in rocks? I wonder what the by-products of microbial hydrogen consumption? hmmmm.

n.n said...

An observation. First, we cannot form a consensus to classify life on this planet. Why do they believe we will enjoy greater success on an alien world?

Second, hydrogen is good, but oil is bad? Perhaps they believe that some organisms should be starved in order for others to live.

Third, they are using those words again: might, could. This is where science and philosophy cross and people become afraid of, for example, nuclear processes.

RecChief said...

also, you should Neil DeGrasse Tyson's talk about what keeps him up at night, related to why extraterrestrials haven't deigned to communicate with us. NOt sure I agree with him, but an interesting thing to ponder nonetheless

lgv said...

"...Now, do you see why we need to go to Mars?

Or do you think that we ought to start worrying about alien microbes liberated from the depths of Earth?"

I'll go with the latter.

gerry said...

Humans will squeeze out from the cracks in another million years.

That's pretty much what we do now.

Inga said...

“The Universe was a silly place at best...but the least likely explanation for it was the no-explanation of random chance, the conceit that abstract somethings 'just happened' to be atoms that 'just happened' to get together in ways which 'just happened' to look like consistent laws and some configurations 'just happened' to possess self-awareness and that two 'just happened' to be the Man from Mars and a bald-headed old coot with Jubal inside.”
― Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

gerry said...

How soon can we expect this ancient, deadly virus to spread worldwide

If it is Desulforudis audaxviator, as Nonapod suggests, it can't tolerate oxygen. It's stuck in an anaerobic habitat, living off sulfates and carbon it frees from its surroundings.

gerry said...

Finally, once the romance of exploration wears off living on Mars comes down to living in a hostile environment in shitty pre-fab housing.

That can't be much worse than New Orleans.

Strelnikov said...

"Humans will squeeze out from the cracks in another million years.

That's pretty much what we do now."

Thread Winner.

Strelnikov said...

"Funny how Rare Earth came up anyway?"

Why would they not come up? All those great hits: Born to Wander, Celebrate, et al. Saw them at an all day outing in the summer of '71. Fabulous.

Murray Wisenbaum said...

Badass alien microbes. Use plenty of bleach.

Sorin said...

"Welcome them as our overlords and pray they don't want to eat us."

To Serve Man

a cookbook

Sorin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex said...

That's why the only suitable site for an extraterrestrial colony in the solar system is Venus. We can build air conditioners; we can't build gravity.

The atmospheric pressure on the ground is 90x Earth. Good luck with not becoming squashed.

Carnifex said...

every SCIFI movie from the 50-s and 60's sayz htis will end badly.

Methadras said...

kurt9 said...

Now, do you see why we need to go to Mars?

Or do you think that we ought to start worrying about alien microbes liberated from the depths of Earth?

No and no.

People who want to go to Mars should finance it themselves. We don't need government (tax payers') money for this.

The microbes in the Earth are methanogens. They do not survive very long in our Oxygen atmosphere. Hence, they are no threat to us. They are, however, an opportunity. Their existence suggests that Thomas Gold's theory about them being the origin of oil is correct. If so, it means there is much, much more oil than anyone expects in the Earth, giving us plenty of time to develop fusion power.


I believe there is roughly hundreds of years worth of oil and natural gas to be had. However, even as fusion is coming online within the next 30 - 50 years realistically (I'd like to see it in my lifetime if I can) then the next best thing as a stop gap inbetween is Molten Salt Reactors or MRE's. Wonderful technology that is actually beneficial and can produce depending on size anywhere from 30 to 100 megawatts of power and they are high temperature reactors as well, so they can be fueled by radioactive waste that is currently being stored and they do not pose an ecological threat because they are completely sealed and use gas instead of water to power turbines. They are also buried deep underground, so the the threat of terrorism or nuclear damage or theft is highly mitigated. They can be easily mass produced and distributed.

Methadras said...

Alex said...

That's why the only suitable site for an extraterrestrial colony in the solar system is Venus. We can build air conditioners; we can't build gravity.

The atmospheric pressure on the ground is 90x Earth. Good luck with not becoming squashed.


Not to mention that wonderful greenhouse temperature of 900 degrees F on the surface along with 200 to 300 times the volcanic activity of earth I imagine.

GrandpaMark said...

If these "scientists" would sit down and watch half a dozen 1950s' science fiction movies, they might not be so eager to be messin' around with a bunch of old microbes and stuff.

Terry Ott said...

Is it edible. With crackers? Washed down with a gin martini, with jalapeno stuffed olives perhaps.

Then we would have something really special. Aged stuff on cracked wheat.

Terry Ott said...

Edible? On crackers? With a gin martini --- jalapeno stuffed olives, perhaps?

Now we've got something worth talking about. Aged stuff on crisp wafers. Ummm.