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Microscopic Life at the South Pole

By Eloquence in News
Sat Jul 08, 2000 at 04:12:00 PM EST
Tags: Science (all tags)
Science

NSF Press Release, July 6: "In a finding that may extend the known limits of life on Earth, researchers supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) have discovered evidence that microbes may be able to survive the heavy doses of ultraviolet radiation and the extreme cold and darkness of the South Pole. [...] If the team's conclusions prove true, the discovery not only has important implications for the search for life in other extreme environments on Earth, but also for the possibility that life -- at least at the microscopic level -- may exist elsewhere in the solar system."


Apparently, life can exist under the most extreme circumstances. This is very interesting, especially WRT the pools of frozen water (and the presumed subterranean ocean of liquid water) on Mars. Unfortunately, our probes have hardly scratched the surface of that wonderful planet (except for the ones that crashed). I'm not seeing much lobbying for new (manned?) Mars missions from cyberspace either :-(. Perhaps a "Red Planet Campaign" for Mars would be in order? If 250 million cyberspace citizens would donate $100 each, this would be enough for a manned mission like in the Zubrin plan... I am allowed to dream, am I not?

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Microscopic Life at the South Pole | 14 comments (13 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
There already is such a group.... (4.00 / 1) (#2)
by puppet10 on Sat Jul 08, 2000 at 07:32:17 PM EST

The Mars Society is advocating for manned missions to Mars and have a convention (was attended by James Cameron and a lot of scientists lat year IIRC), and AFAIK they do lobby the gov't. Another place to find a reasonable/interesting plan for sustained space and planetary development is PERMANENT, although I don't know if they are lobbying or not.

Bo Hoo on Mars! (1.50 / 2) (#3)
by FlinkDelDinky on Sat Jul 08, 2000 at 10:15:09 PM EST

As far as life in extreme environments goes I've heard (sorry no links) that they've found microbes living in bedrock and they've no idea how it got there (I'm not sure if this is true though, I'm pretty sure it is though). They've also found microbes in all kinds of extreme environments, so this is just one more extreme.

I'll continue my manned mars (that dust bowl doesn't deserve to be captilized) bashing. Look, I want more knowledge too. That's why we should continue to send robots and probes. We'll learn more, faster, and certainly more cheaply. And the idea of living in a meek .3 gravity is simply disgusting.

Now if we want to go around terraforming planets we really only have one candidate and that's our sister planet Venus. You've got serious water and heat problems. Nothing's perfect. But hey, you can capitilize Venus and keep your head up.

Re: Bo Hoo on Mars! (2.00 / 1) (#4)
by MadPoet on Sat Jul 08, 2000 at 10:58:10 PM EST

Now if we want to go around terraforming planets we really only have one candidate and that's our sister planet Venus. You've got serious water and heat problems. Nothing's perfect. But hey, you can capitilize Venus and keep your head up.


True. IIRC, weren't there some kind of oxygen producing (read: plants) on some of the probes we sent to Venus? Some kind of half assed attempt at trying to produce some oxygen I suppose. But I certainly agree. Venus has major prospects IMHO... generally the same size as earth, closer but not too close (I mean hey, we're getting [hopefully] to the point where we can begin to control weather here on earth, shouldn't be much longer for Venus), and it's not too far away. I want to know why the hell we haven't been focusing more on Venus? What's up?
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[ Parent ]
Re: Bo Hoo on Mars! (5.00 / 1) (#5)
by Tatarigami on Sat Jul 08, 2000 at 11:36:10 PM EST

In some ways, terraforming Mars is an easier prospect than Venus. Even with advanced genetic engineering techniques, plants are going to have a difficult time adapting to a planet where a day and a night are longer than the planet's year is. And Venus' atmosphere is hot, dark, acidic and soupy, even on the day side. Plants engineered from extremeophile bacteria might be able to live there, but I bet changing the environment would be an awfully slow process for them. And in those conditions, wear and tear on machinery would be worse.

We have good reason to suspect Mars has large reserves of water in the form of frozen aquifers and at the poles. The only water we're sure of on Venus is in the atmosphere in the form of water vapour. Of course, you can crack apart CO2 and H2SO4 (carbon dioxide and sulphuric acid) from the Venusian atmosphere for the materials to make water, but it's another step in an already difficult process. Alternatively, you could bombard the planet with comets, but considering the atmospheric pressure is already about 10,000% higher than we'd like, that's probably a bad thing in the short term...

If we could build some kind of shield between Venus and the sun, that would be a step in the right direction. A relatively small drop in temperature would start less volatile chemicals condensing out of the atmosphere, which would clear it up a bit (don't ask me how much). But shielding a whole *planet* from the sun? That's quite a challenge. Mars would probably make the better testbed for terraforming technology.

[ Parent ]
Re: Bo Hoo on Mars! (none / 0) (#6)
by genehack on Sun Jul 09, 2000 at 12:29:36 AM EST

But shielding a whole *planet* from the sun? That's quite a challenge. Mars would probably make the better testbed for terraforming technology.

Agreed. In fact, it seems that a more reasonable course might be moving Venus -- out of its present orbit, and into something more decent for life as we know it -- perhaps to one of Earth's Trojan points. And I just don't see that happening anytime soon.

Mars, on the other hand, seems quite do-able. I especially like the idea of comet bombardment, to bring the planetary temp up, and maybe release some of the water and oxides out of the soil.

In some ways, finding life on Mars would put a big damper on these types of plans -- because terraforming Mars would probably put a big cramp into the lifestyle of Mars-forms.

[ Parent ]

Terraforming Mars. (3.00 / 1) (#8)
by Inoshiro on Sun Jul 09, 2000 at 01:15:45 AM EST

I'm afraid terraforming Mars isn't quite that simple. First, the planet doesn't have enough mass to hold an Earth-like atmosphere, nor does it have the magnetic field to protect it from the solar winds. Any new atmosphere you add/release by "slamming" comets and other debris into the surface would likely be stripped away by the solar winds (as the gravity field is weak, and the van Allen belts don't really exist).

Now, if you could give Mars a big satalite (something like Earth's moon) which would constantly "kneed" at the core of Mars, you could likely get a molten core going and increase the strength of its magnetic field. Then you could add more and more mass to the planet, as well as water and other elements which would make it liveable.

The only other bodies in the Solar system besides Earth which we know have liquid cores are Io and Europa, because of the force of Jupiter on their cores (in one case, it adds to volcanic activity similar to that on Earth, and in the other, it stops the ice from freezing solid completely). Mars only has a couple of long extinct volcanoes, supporting the idea that its core is solid (and "dead'). Europa has a better chance of supporting advanced life of some kind, because the environment deep under the ice could very well be like that of a deep ocean trench on Earth -- no light, cold, lots of pressure, but "hot" vents of minerals.



--
[ イノシロ ]
[ Parent ]
Re: Terraforming Mars. (none / 0) (#12)
by Tatarigami on Sun Jul 09, 2000 at 05:26:40 PM EST

    First, the planet doesn't have enough mass to hold an Earth-like atmosphere, nor does it have the magnetic field to protect it from the solar winds.
It's true that Mars has only half the mass of Earth and about a third of the gravity, but I think that's enough for it to hold an atmosphere. After all, Saturn's moon Titan has a much thicker atmosphere than either Earth or Mars, with an estimated mass of about half of Mars. Mars would lose atmosphere to the solar wind, but that should be a fairly slow process.

Keep in mind that unlike Earth, Mars doesn't have active volcanoes to replenish air pressure with outgassing. It may have had an atmosphere as thick as Earth's at one point in its history, and only slowly lost it.

No magnetic field does mean the planet soaks up a lot more solar radiation than we do, but the reduced gravity means if Mars does get a thicker atmosphere, it'll thin out higher than ours does, giving added protection against UV and other nasties.

[ Parent ]
Re: Terraforming Mars. (2.00 / 1) (#13)
by Anonymous Hero on Sun Jul 09, 2000 at 11:02:45 PM EST

"All these worlds are yours, except for Europa. Attempt no landings there." Ok, so someone had to write this, right?

[ Parent ]
Re: Bo Hoo on Mars! (none / 0) (#7)
by genehack on Sun Jul 09, 2000 at 12:43:34 AM EST

They've also found microbes in all kinds of extreme environments, so this is just one more extreme.

'Mazing, isn't it? Evolution is like Moore's Law for biology -- pretty much anywhere there's water and heat (or maybe not even heat...) you're gonna find something trying to make a go of it.

I'll continue my manned mars (that dust bowl doesn't deserve to be captilized) bashing. Look, I want more knowledge too. That's why we should continue to send robots and probes. We'll learn more, faster, and certainly more cheaply. And the idea of living in a meek .3 gravity is simply disgusting.

It's not just about "more knowledge". It's also about getting humanity spread out a bit. Heinlein (of course) said it best: "The Earth is too small a basket to put all our eggs in". Hopefully, life extension will really take off in the not-so-distant future. If it does, the odds of experiencing a "dinosaur killer" level impact go way, way up for all of us -- it'd be nice to have some people living somewhere that won't be affected. In order for that to happen, we need manned exploration (woman-ed too), leading to colonization as fast as we can possibly swing it. Yes, it'll be hard and expensive as all hell. But at it takes is one moderately sized asteroid impact to ruin your whole morning.

Now if we want to go around terraforming planets we really only have one candidate and that's our sister planet Venus.

This is just silly -- see later in the thread for why. This, plus the whole mars thing make me suspect we have a troll in our midst...

john,
wearing Extropian and space nut hats tonight...

[ Parent ]

Re: Bo Hoo on Mars! (none / 0) (#9)
by FlinkDelDinky on Sun Jul 09, 2000 at 04:11:10 AM EST

Well, I poke fun of mars pretty consistantly whenever it comes up. However, I really do prefer probes over manned missions to mars.

I threw Venus into the mix on a lark. I think terraforming mars would be much easier than Venus with present and near present technologies. But I look at it from a different angle, suppose we terraform both? Which would you choose? I think Venus wins simply for gravities sake.

Like I said before, heat and water are the biggies on Venus. I figure heat has to be solved first. I break heat into two problems, heat comming in and heat going out. Maybe atmospheric microbes/nanobots could be developed to create a mirrored atmosphere on the sunside to block out the neccessary radaitions. Now the second problem is bigger, there's lots of heat trapped inside the planet it self. So much that there's a controversial theory that says the entire crust of the planet becomes molten every 4 or 500 million years.

If you solve the heat in problem you've still got so much heat stored up inside the planet that it could be a problem? Also, in a previous post I read that a good sized moon might be required to keep the core molten and get those radiation deflecting magnetic belts working. Hmmm...were's a good for nothing planet that people are trying to find a good use for? Oh yeah, mars, we could use mars as a moon of Venus!

PS. I also agree that we should somehow physically remove our destinies as a species from our planets destiney. I just think we need good gravity to do it in the style to which we've become accustomed. Maybe really big space stations that have like a million people on'em? Shoot those succers out in every direction. You first though.

[ Parent ]

Re: Bo Hoo on Mars! (none / 0) (#11)
by sec on Sun Jul 09, 2000 at 04:04:05 PM EST

You know, it might be kinda fun to bounce around in the lower gravity of Mars. The problem would be coming back to Earth after you'd been on Mars for a while. :)

[ Parent ]
Makes life on Mars (or even our moon) seem *less* (5.00 / 1) (#10)
by mattdm on Sun Jul 09, 2000 at 01:13:56 PM EST

This demonstrates that life on Earth is extremely tenacious -- anywhere it could possibly live, it does, including our most hostile environments. There is nowhere on Earth where you could put down a probe, "scratch the surface", and find no signs of life. It's everywhere.

So why would life on Mars be any less so? If it took hold ever, there would be signs of it all over.



Alone... (none / 0) (#14)
by 3than on Mon Jul 10, 2000 at 05:04:20 PM EST

And I thought I was the only off-planet life around here.
It really is a small world after all...

Microscopic Life at the South Pole | 14 comments (13 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
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